‘Accreditation Is Meant to Be a Process of Constant Qualitative Development’
International accreditations have become a key marker that attests to the quality of teaching and the sustainable development of universities and business schools. Olga Okulova, Head of the Centre for International Accreditations and Network Programmes at HSE University – St Petersburg, discusses why excellent academic standing is crucial for students, teachers and universities.
What accreditations will be discussed at the session? Is it a defined list, or does every academic field have its own international accreditations?
Each field, one way or another, has its own mechanisms of external quality assessment. In some cases they are more formalised, in others—they have a less formal character. In business education, international accreditations, the key ones of which are provided by the leading professional associations such as EFMD, AACSB and AMBA, are the most useful tool for assessing the quality of teaching. Together they make up the so-called ‘triple crown’. Today, less than 1% of business schools in the world have this high status. The content of programmes, as well as their research activities and business processes are analysed. At a session on ‘International Accreditations and Reputation: Successful Russian Practices’ at the Education and Global Cities conference, experts will discuss the contribution of these accreditations to the reputations of business schools and their ‘parent’ universities.
What do international accreditations mean to all groups involved in the educational process: students, teachers, and universities (as brands)?
This is a complex issue, because for each group of stakeholders international accreditation has its own significance. For example, students of accredited programmes can be sure that they will gain skills that are in demand on the international market right now. Accreditation is meant to be a process of constant qualitative development, implementation of the most relevant teaching methods and ongoing improvement of programme content.
As for teachers and staff, on the one hand, it may seem that accreditation is an additional bureaucratic burden. But an important aspect of obtaining of accreditation is the gradual development of a culture of quality and, consequently, a decision making process based on data. This makes it possible to successfully implement programmes aimed at developing human resources in terms of teaching staff, as well as administrators, that meet missions and strategic goals of schools and universities.
Of course, the quality of teaching, recognised by the international professional community, makes a great contribution to a university's reputation. For that reason, accreditations should become a tool for strategic development of universities. As part of the EPAS accreditation, experts conduct a thorough analysis of the institutional framework, which is essential for developing top-notch programmes. Thus, it is a ‘high quality mark’ not only of programmes themselves, but also universities. Having international accreditations encourages strategic partnerships with leading universities and international companies that are interested in hiring graduates with both professional skills and soft skills to perform priority tasks.
Are Russian universities succeeding in meeting international education standards and obtaining international accreditations?
In Russia, there are many universities and schools that offer business education programmes, but only four business schools (all within universities) have EFMD accreditation. Three of them, including HSE – St. Petersburg, were granted EPAS accreditation. The graduate School of Management of St. Petersburg State University is the only institution that has been also granted EQUIS institutional accreditation. Recently, RANEPA was the first institution in Russia to receive AACSB institutional accreditation.
Obtaining accreditation is quite a long process, which can take anywhere from 2-3 to even 5-7 years, and often requires internal transformation. Over the last few years, the number of Russian members both in EFMD and AACSB has grown. Therefore, there is tendency among leading Russian universities to seek to strengthen their presence in the leading associations of business education and prove themselves through getting international accreditations.
In what areas of assessment do Russian universities perform well, and where do they have ‘blind spots’?
Every university is a kind of living organism—some processes do not cause serious failures, and others require special support. Therefore, we cannot say that we perform well in every single area. Moreover, experts will surely find weaknesses!
As I have already noted, the key principle behind international accreditations is ongoing improvement. What seems relevant today may become obsolete tomorrow. The main thing for every university that seeks to obtain international accreditations is to understand its strengths and weaknesses based on its strategic priorities and mission.
Of course, Russian universities often find it difficult to meet accreditation criteria related to internationalisation. Moreover, it is widely understood. In addition, the level of research culture and intellectual contribution are also urgent challenges for universities.
Have international accreditations become a factor attracting foreign students to Russian universities?
Yes, absolutely. For example, our Master's Programme ‘Finance’ has always been popular among students, but this year we have faced some kind of a craze for this programme so far. Admission of foreign students lasts until August, and by now the number of applications has already reached the final figures of 2018. The number of international students who have been admitted in 2019 is higher than that of the same period last year.
In addition, international accreditations allow universities to enhance partnerships with other universities and business schools, which leads to an increase in international student mobility for semester study abroad programmes and summer schools. It is important to note that a lot depends on how a university uses the status granted by international accreditations. Everyone, from rectors to applicants and their parents, should be aware of them and the advantages they provide.
Obtaining and maintaining a high academic standing involves additional reports and improving the educational process. How do universities build relationships between the university administration and teaching staff under the conditions of increased workloads?
The problem of increased workload exists not only in Russian universities, and teachers at every university are very busy, and any administrative work requires additional internal resources.
But the engagement of teachers is a success factor in the process of gaining international accreditation, so it is vital, on the one hand, to ease the administrative burden on teaching staff, and on the other—to establish an effective communication and a system of trustworthy cooperation. It is essential to assign initiative groups and project teams that will educate opinion leaders who can get the message across to their colleagues that accreditations have a great importance for universities.
We hope to discuss the experience of engaging teachers in the process of preparation for international accreditations during the session, because everyone faces this challenge, and everyone looks for solutions.