The MBA is the fastest growing postgraduate qualification in the UK: our current output of around 10,000 MBAs a year is more than the rest of Europe put together. While this is largely a credit to the British ability to offer business education, an inevitable side effect of its popularity is the proliferation of institutions offering MBAs. An MBA programme can be a lucrative offshoot for cash-strapped institutions, but not all offer equally good value for money.

The MBA is the fastest growing postgraduate qualification in the UK: our current output of around 10,000 MBAs a year is more than the rest of Europe put together. While this is largely a credit to the British ability to offer business education, an inevitable side effect of its popularity is the proliferation of institutions offering MBAs. An MBA programme can be a lucrative offshoot for cash-strapped institutions, but not all offer equally good value for money.

So how can you make sure that your money is being well spent, and that the qualification you emerge with will cut the ice in a business environment? Other factors aside, going to an accredited school offers a real measure of quality control. The Association of MBAs accreditation scheme currently covers 36 UK institutions offering the MBA; its value is confirmed by the fact that schools abroad are seeking it – since October the association has accredited two schools in Canada, three in New Zealand and two in Chile.

For the student, accreditation offers an invaluable way of weeding out the wheat from the chaff, says John Mapes, the MBA admissions director at Cranfield School of Management. "The problem for a prospective MBA student is that there are about 130 other business schools in the UK; and in the world at large there are thousands more of varying quality. The difficulty for individuals is to tell from a brochure or prospectus which are the best – objective accreditation alongside league tables can help them to separate those that are in the first division from the rest."

The Association of MBA's assessment criteria are rigorous and offer prospective MBA students a form of consumer control. The school should have its own discrete identity and physical facilities within the institution or university itself, and it should have at least two cohorts, or graduating classes. The faculty should be large enough to offer adequate contact between staff and students during the course – with a minimum of around 40 members of staff – and those staff should have credible academic qualifications to ensure they are able to teach business at undergraduate level, along with a good quality research background, and extensive business contacts and consultancy activities.

The curriculum must cover core business skills, such as marketing, business economics, business law, accounting, organisational theory and interpersonal skills, and exams must be the principal form of measuring the student's progress in these areas. In terms of the students, the school's admissions standards should be high, and based on work experience as well as academic qualifications. In addition, the Association of MBAs looks at other factors, such as the availability of language teaching, library and computer facilities, international contacts, and the extent to which student reactions are taken into account in terms of continuing course design and improvement.

But according to Professor Leo Murray, the current director of Cranfield, the real value of accreditation is not the rubber stamp it gives the school, but the evaluation process itself. "Key to the value of accreditation is the process you go through in being reviewed. Becoming accredited is a lot of work, but it has benefits because it makes you think about yourself and what you offer very carefully."

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