Dr Eileen Peacock, Senior VP & Chief Officer, Asia, AACSB International (Photo: Astha A)
PaGaLGuY interviewed Dr Eileen Peacock, Senior Vice President and Chief Officer, Asia of b-school accrediitator AACSB International on the sidelines of the MBAUniverse.com Indian Management Conclave . In a quick and exclusive interview, Dr Peacock speaks about the advantages and disadvantages faced by Indian b-schools while in their AACSB addreditation process as well as their approach towards international accreditation.
How are b-schools in Asian countries, especially India, warming up to international accreditations such as the AACSB.
I think the level of interest has increased quite a bit in the past six to nine months in India. However, b-schools have still not reached a complete level of understanding when it comes to the importance and necessity of acquiring an international accreditation. But I don't consider this lack of understanding as unreasonable.
The two countries that probably are the best at this are Taiwan and South Korea. They are the most advanced because predominantly, the leadership at business schools in these countries is non-Asian educated. Many have PhDs from the United States. That explains why they understand the AACSB model of a business school. While we are almost a hundred years old, we went international only about fifteen years ago. So our model is known very well to these people.
In what sense are these countries advanced?
In terms of the number of b-schools in these countries that have an AACSB accreditation, I would say there are about ten b-schools accredited in Taiwan. In addition, there are about ten to fifteen schools that are in the process. Korea also has somewhat the same numbers. It probably has more accredited schools and fewer that are in the process. They are over the critical mass but to be honest, it is not growing there as fast because the enrolments are dropping because of a decline in population in these Asian countries.
How do you explain the recent increase in interest for the AACSB accreditation at Indian b-schools?
I believe that we are the strongest as an accreditation body. It is a very broad accreditation and if you get it, you are actually much better off. We're recognised globally better than anybody else. I think b-schools understand that an AACSB accreditation will differentiate them from the rest. So it has gained significance for them.
The interest has also increased recently. The major reasons I think are the fact that a couple of Indian management schools have managed to get themselves (ISB Hyderabad and TAPMI Manipal) which has spiked interest among others. In addition, while an All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) accreditation is important, it is still at a national level. An international accreditation helps a management institute get better recognition on a global level.
What parts of the process delay Indian b-schools from getting AACSB an accreditation the most?
The challenges are the lack of doctoral qualified faculty. That is one of the major issues, though it is not existent universally. In addition, there is a lack of research projects at most of the institutes. Even if people get doctorates, they don't do real research. Some do, I am not saying they all don't. But that is probably one of the biggest problems.
We have a process called Assurance of Learning. People teach but the question is, do the students learn? We make schools set up a process to show that students are learning. I don't mean learning accounting or finance, but actually a lot of soft skills like critical thinking, globalisation, the ability to adapt and so on. All these are essential skills that managers need to have. Our process requires that whatever the school says they will teach, they have to prove it to the AACSB team.
Is there any advantages that Indian institutes have over b-schools in other Asian countries to make accreditation easier for them?
They have characteristics which would make the accreditation easier. For example, the fact that the institutes are all really very small is a plus point. This in their favour because it makes the process less complex. The vast majority of private schools here have tiny enrolments. A total count of 300 students is a tiny number. We have b-schools in New Zealand for example, with 13,000 students and that's only in the business school of the University I am referring to. We even have schools going through the process that have 16,000 students. Those are large schools. The vast majority are in the thousands.
How is the small student populations an advantage?
Getting accredited is about reaching the standards and making an effort to understand them. When it comes to Asian b-schools I am getting the work done. It requires complete focus. I could walk into one of these schools and if I could get access to their data, I can do my research in a short amount of time. It's not rocket science.
Now in a big institution, the issue is that of data complexity. And in a big school, you'll get a constant turnover just by the nature of size. If you have three hundred to four hundred faculty members, you will have a 10% turnover all the time, which is a large number. So you are constantly dealing with new people and putting them into the process. You have got new heads of department and you may even have to deal with structural changes during the process. All this makes the process far more complex in bigger institutes and multiple campuses.
How many Indian b-schools are in the AACSB accreditation process currently?
There are a total of thirty two AACSB members. While two institutes are accredited, ten more are in the process. Some Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are in the process. However, I am not at liberty to name them.
On an average, how much time does it take for an institute to complete the AACSB accreditation process?
Well, the average time is about three years because we have a process where we have an initial application. The institutes have to write it. Now they may write it quickly or they may write it slowly. It is completely up to them. The difficulty lies in the fact that the institute has to write about itself. This requires a lot of thought. Once they are through with the process, they send their application to us and we send our feedback.
The initial application and approval process takes about two months. Then the clock starts running. You know what gaps there are and you close the gaps. It is as simple as that. They would tell us their plan to close the gaps and we would say whether it is ok or it is unrealistic or that we have read your document and we think there are more gaps that need to be filled. We just monitor their application from day one. Eventually, the b-schools close the gaps and then they get invited to submit the formal application.
On what grounds can AACSB ask a management institute to bow out from the accreditation process? Has it happened with any Indian b-school so far?
In the initial application stage itself, if the gaps seem too huge, a business school can be asked to go away, do some work and come back in a couple of years. There are some cases where we ask for more information about things we do not understand, and the institutes adjust their application accordingly. Finally, in some cases, the applications are just accepted without any delay. Then once the b-schools are in the process, occasionally if they are not making any progress towards filling the gaps in their applications, we would advise them to withdraw. But it happens with very few institutes and so far, it has not happened in India. But then, we have very few colleges from the country who are a part of the process. We get about two applications from the country every year, which is very little when compared to the total two hundred colleges that are in process across the world.
How would you compare the approach taken by ISB and TAPMI during their accreditation processes?
They both did it somewhat the same way. TAPMI came in under a slightly different process than ISB because we changed our process. But conceptually, the process for both the institutes was the same.
TAPMI took a longer time as compared to ISB to get the accreditation. How did that happen?
I wouldn't like to comment on it. But one thing that delays schools often is change in leadership. There is lost knowledge, because unless a lot of people are involved, when the people who have the knowledge go away, there is another learning process involved. In addition, sometimes, especially in America, the lack of money means the institutes have difficulty in closing the gaps because they do not have access to the funds it requires to do it.