Three is the magic number for some schools

Many business schools seem to agree with Purcell. So much so that some have gone not just for AMBA accreditation, but for accreditation from both EQUIS (European Quality Improvement System) and AACSB (American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business), the dominant kitemark in US graduate business schools. These triple-kited schools argue that accreditation by UK, European and US-based bodies is important if an institution wants recognition as an international player that draws students from across the globe and equips them to work anywhere.

Warwick Business School was the first of a handful of British institutions to be triple-accredited. "Accreditation is important because it is an indication of quality," argues Professor Howard Thomas, Warwick's dean. "And students who come to business school, particularly from overseas, tell us they think it is important."

Despite the enthusiasm of some business schools for accreditation, only 38 of the 102 members of the UK Association of Business Schools are AMBA-accredited. While some may instead have EQUIS accreditation, others have no accreditation at all.

Jonathan Slack, chief executive of the Association of Business Schools, says that institutions with no accreditation may think their own reputation is enough to attract students or find the whole business of accreditation too costly and time-consuming.

"If a school has not been through accreditation, it does not mean the school is not good," argues Slack. "If it doesn't have AMBA accreditation, in particular, that might be because the MBA is not as important to it as the other business qualifications it offers."

Interestingly, Professor Anthony Hopwood, dean of the relatively new, but already internationally respected Said Business School at Oxford University says he is not sure Said needs accreditation at all. It is only accredited by AMBA and Hopwood thinks the school's reputation is such that accreditation may become unnecessary.

For MBA programmes of lesser reputation, an absence of AMBA accreditation may indicate difficulties in meeting requirements such as an average minimum business experience of three years for MBA students, a high level of international diversity in the student body and academic standing among the faculty.

Rankings, meanwhile, both delight and infuriate schools. Few deans doubt that they figure highly in students' choice of MBA programme and can dramatically affect recruitment. However, the deans' advice to students is to closely examine the ranking process. In the Financial Times rankings, for example, an MBA programme may be ranked among the best in the world on entrepreneurship but less well on the speed with which graduates find work. Though this correlation might be expected in an MBA programme focused on the entrepreneurial, the second factor pushes the school down the overall ranking table. The point is that students should bear in mind what they most want from an MBA.

"Students should also bear in mind when they look at ranking that the difference between position 30 and 10 is tiny," says Professor Antoniou.

And reading the rankings is no substitute for original research. Prospective students should, says Professor Thomas, quiz schools in person. "They should visit the institutions they are considering."