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Article

Shaking the status quo: Business accreditation and positional competition

Academy of Management Learning and Education. 2018. Vol. 17. No. 2. P. 203-225.
Alajoutsijarvi K., Kerttu K., Sauli S.

Modern business schools exist in a complex world of rankings, ratings, and credentials. Some argue that in increasingly competitive global higher education markets, signaling status and quality has actually become more important than having them (Gioia & Corley, 2002Trank & Rynes, 2003). For many contemporary business schools, international accreditations have become key means and first steps in pursuing legitimacy and global status. In this essay, we elaborate in detail on a business school’s international accreditation process, including its motivations and outcomes. We conclude that while accreditation processes are, at best, fruitful quality improvement exercises, the inherent motivations stemming from the urge for organizational legitimacy, status, and reputation should not be overlooked by either the accrediting agencies or business schools themselves. Ironically, while accreditation agencies (AACSB and EQUIS are those focused on here) rarely explicitly encourage competition, their exclusivity seems to generate it between schools that aspire to belong to “the club.” For schools that gain access to the process, this means that on the flip side of the happy and collaborative jump in quality there is a much more serious demarcation and revealing redefinition of the accredited entity’s future supporters, collaborators, partners, and competitors.