The Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University has officially confirmed its accreditation by the AACSB (the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business). This huge achievement puts the Business School in the exceptional position of winning the ‘triple crown’ of accreditation, which includes the EQIUS (the European Quality Improvement System) and the AMBA (the Association of MBAs). Konstantin Krotov, Executive Director of the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University (GSOM SPbU), spoke about how to qualify for the ‘coronation’.

krotov konstantin

What does accreditation by the AACSB and the 'triple crown' mean for the business school?

This means that a business school can achieve anything; there is no task that the team at this school can't do. There are many accreditations, national and international, but the most prestigious and coveted in the world of business education are AACSB, AMBA and EQUIS. The Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University was accredited by the AMBA (the Association of MBAs) in 2008, by the EQUIS (the European Quality Improvement System) in 2012, and now by the AACSB (the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business). This is called the ‘triple crown’ and there are only 110 business schools in the world that have it. This is less than 1% of business schools. Being a member of this, without exaggeration, elite club means that the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University meets the requirements of international standards consistently: the quality of its programmes is stable; its research is of a high level; and the school is a prominent participant in the global market.

What will this do for the school in the future?

The immediate and most obvious effect is reputational. With the 'triple crown' we will be able to expand and strengthen the best existing network of academic partnerships in Russia with the world's leading business schools, and update the terms of the existing partnerships. The focus will be not only on exchange programmes, but also on research projects, double degree programmes, and perhaps something altogether innovative. We also expect an increase in the number of students and trainees, especially international students, as the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University is becoming even more international and even more visible on a global scale.

Have applicants already learnt to take accreditation into account when choosing an institution?

There is a noticeable difference between the perception of accreditations among Russian students and international students, regardless of the level of the programme. For the latter, accreditations, like rankings, are an understandable and familiar indicator of quality. Russian applicants are less focused on them when applying because there is virtually no market for accredited schools. During their studies, our students become aware of the philosophy of accreditations, seeing their mechanisms working from the inside, in operation.  They include the quality system, continuous improvement, and much more. Speaking of which, the advantage of accredited schools is very important for teachers who consider the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University as a workplace. So from the perspective of employer brand, the ‘triple crown’ will definitely help to attract brilliant educators and researchers, perhaps even internationally renowned ones.

What efforts had to be made to confirm AACSB accreditation? What exactly has the Graduate School of Management changed in order to obtain it?

First of all, the AACSB has brought a quality system that we have already mentioned to the school. It is implemented through our Assurance of Learning committee, which monitors the achievement of each programme's objectives, regularly generates an improvement plan, and evaluates the effectiveness of its implementation. For example, in a number of programmes we have set the strategic planning skills of students as one of our objectives. We define them very clearly and determine how we will measure the achievement of these skills. We conduct annual measurements, and if the required level is not achieved, we come up with a plan for improvement. If, on the contrary, the result is very good, we revise the objective and set a more ambitious one. This is a continuous process for each programme. Besides the quality system, we have reformulated our mission statement and approved a new strategy, as well as revised the assessment system for teaching staff performance.

How similar is the process for confirming the AACSB accreditation to that of the EQIUS and the AMBA?

The most important principles are the same – there are international standards that the school must meet: we have to write a self-evaluation report each time, and each time we are evaluated by a committee consisting of real professionals – heads of other business schools. The differences are in the details. In the AACSB, for example, the pre-accreditation process takes longer, there is much more attention to processes and indicators, and the committee  meets up with the school throughout the six months prior to accreditation. The EQUIS has no such liaison. However, the main point is the same. You just have to be a great business school. If you are bad – no matter how you ‘package’ and ‘pitch’ your work, it will not turn into something good.

It is naive to try to deceive anyone. After all, in the end, they do not come to us to 'check our grades', but to help us do better. As a matter of fact, the AACSB stresses this point. Awarding accreditation is not a goal in itself.

In your view, how objective is the system of international accreditation in principle and could there be more adequate indicators of the quality of education in higher education institutions?

International assessment systems are subjective – and this is their advantage. The evaluation is conducted by living people who see the context. They can commit mistakes, or they can come up with their own interpretations which we may not always agree with. However, that is precisely what is good. These particular people are professionals who collectively evaluate your work against a known and detailed set of criteria, compiled in standards based on the experience of so many other schools. This is, you see, an association of experts who are passionate about education and help each other to become even better.

Which of the members of the ‘triple crown’ club would you aspire to equal?

It's hard to say. The most famous schools are of course HEC-Paris, WU, Bocconi, NUS and Tsinghua. But fame is not everything. When we seek accreditation, we compare ourselves with our colleagues and see that the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University is not like any other school, and resembles them all at the same time. So in this sense, the right comparison is with ourselves: to follow the dynamics and try to become better. One of the advantages of accreditations is that you see interesting solutions in other schools and can adapt them to yourself. For example, we have drawn on the French IESEG as a format for faculty meetings to discuss current academic issues, and we have learned about hybrid classrooms from the Spanish IE and the American Harvard Business School.

Does the accreditation have an impact on the employment rate of graduates? Have employers become familiar with this indicator?

It is the inverse logic that applies. The Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University is regarded as a business school that trains specialists of such a high level that they are guaranteed to be in demand at the best companies for the most interesting positions and successfully move up the career ladder. In other words, accreditation works as a quality mark, if not for the employer, but for the applicant. You have to understand that employers, both Russian and foreign, are extremely rational – in a good sense of the word. They focus on the quality of the performance of our graduates, not on their titles. Nevertheless, we plan to do a lot of explanatory work about what international accreditations mean. However, this is the logic: the higher the quality of our education – the better our graduates are – the more we are worthy of accreditation.

Are there any other higher education institutions, or business schools, in Russia that have the 'triple crown'?

No, there aren't. Today the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University is the only winner of the 'triple crown' in our country. We are proud of this, but we really want other deserving business schools to join us.