"Basically our accreditation criteria represent what a good quality MBA should be," says Robert Owen, manager of accreditation services at the Association of MBAs. "You can be quite sure then that, for the money you're spending, you're getting a good quality product. If you look at MBA provision worldwide there are some very poor quality programmes - a lot of universities tend to see it as a way of making money."
With assessment at least every five years, accreditation involves a lot of hard work for business schools. But those that succeed are certain of its value. "The fact that we've just earned Amba accreditation shows we want to be in the quality end of the market," says Hector Douglas, head of Aberdeen Business School, part of Robert Gordon University, which - with Trinity College, Dublin, and the University of Exeter's School of Business and Economics - recently joined the association's list.
"The other option would be to go for volume, particularly on the international market, but we wanted to kitemark our MBA as being one of high quality. We see accreditation as reflecting the overall credibility of the school - it shines a light on the quality of what we've been doing for a number of years," he adds.
Dr David Stoker, director of development at Durham Business School, is equally enthusiastic. "With the massive growth of schools offering MBAs in the last 50 years, it has been increasingly important to distinguish the head from the tail, and so it has become absolutely crucial to be an accredited school," he says. "Accreditation is an absolute prerequisite for any school that wants to be a serious MBA player in a very crowded marketplace."
To ensure protection for prospective students, as well as a measure of quality for employers, the criteria for MBA accreditation are exacting. The business school must demonstrate a clear sense of mission, and undertake a high level of management research, scholarship and consultancy work.
School facilities should be of a high standard, and faculty staff must be well qualified - the majority, for instance, should hold a doctorate. Each MBA programme should have clear aims, objectives and learning outcomes, and cover all the major areas of knowledge underpinning general management.
Accredited MBA schools are also constrained in terms of the students they accept. As a qualification designed for those expected to make a significant impact at a senior level of management, accredited programmes will not normally accept someone without an honours degree or equivalent, and at least three years of managerial experience.