The Importance Of ISO Certification For Academic Organizations


Monarch Business School is Triple Certified By ISO International. Being a business school Monarch recognized early on the importance of ISO certification in establishing the value of the programs on offer. Recognized in 163 countries by businesses, governments and organizations of all types, the ISO certification provides a global evaluation standard that students can look to with confidence. With the recent ISO certification of AACSB (The Association To Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, USA) one of the premiere business school accreditation agencies in the USA this viewpoint is further reinforced. In the article below, Dr. Keller, Professor of Management at Monarch Business School Switzerland provides a more in-depth review of the importance and value of the ISO Certification for academic institutions.

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Over the past two decades, the number of institutions offering Masters of Business degrees has expanded to meet market demand. As more public and private academic institutions offer business degrees the challenge to distinguish quality programs increases. One method to ensure a college, university or business school is providing a credible and quality degree program is to become certified by an independent professional accreditation agency. Several such bodies exist; however, which one is the appropriate and widely recognized accreditation body that benefits both the institution and student? This article discusses the options available to academic institutions and concludes that certification from the International Standards Organization (ISO) is the optimal choice due to its global reputation for quality standards and that one of the most prominent business program accrediting bodies (AACSB) selected ISO to certify its own quality management system.


Over the past two decades, the number of institutions offering Masters of Business degrees in a variety of modalities has expanded to meet market demand. In the United States from 2011-2012, “191,571 people graduated from U.S. schools with advanced degrees in business, some 25.4% of all the master’s degrees conferred. That compares with 178,062 master’s degrees in education, or 23.6%, of all the advanced degrees” (Byrne, 2014, para. 3). World-wide it is difficult to precisely calculate the number of institutions offering Masters in Business degrees; however, as the development of the global economy continues, the number of online MBA programs continue to develop and as developing countries’ educational institutions emerge/mature, the growth of Masters Programs will further enlarge to satisfy a seemingly insatiable demand.

The sheer enlargement of the number of MBA program offerings has created what Kim and Mauborgne (2015) would describe as a red ocean. In a red ocean market space, a proliferation of competitors exists and the nature of the red ocean business strategy is to beat the competition (or at least gain a fraction of the existing marketplace) on price and exploit existing demand. Given the market demand and opportunities for colleges/universities to service the enlarging MBA need, how can an academic institution successfully distinguish itself to prospective students and how can students discern which MBA program offers the best quality and value proposition?

Specialized Accreditation

A common path that many business schools take when offering MBA degrees is to secure specialized accreditation from organizations such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) or the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE). Some of the other most well-known specialized business accreditation bodies include The Association of MBAs (United Kingdom) and EQUIS – EFMD Quality Improvement System (European Union).

The purposes for accreditation are numerous. The foremost reason is obtaining a “stamp of approval” from an independent, internationally recognized authority that affirms that a business school offers quality education programs, teaching excellence and documented program/learning outcomes. Other reasons for obtaining accreditation include marketing appeal, faculty recruiting, leverage for internal university resources, recognition as an elite institution and etc. (Roller, Andrews & Bovee, 2003). It could be argued that “just as regional accreditation became the standard for universities in the 1950s, specialized accreditation is the standard for schools of business in the 2000s” (Tullis & Camey, 2007, p.50).

Institutional leaders must query the motivation for pursing a specialized accreditation distinction. If accreditation is designed to enhance the business degree programs’ marketing appeal (essentially seeking parity with other competitors) or for internal institutional maneuverings, the time, energy and short and long-term costs for the effort may delay or detract from creating a unique Masters business program or to use Kim and Mauborgne’s model – a blue ocean product. A blue ocean as defined by Kim and Mauborgne “are all the industries not in existence today – the unknown market space” (blueoceanstrategy, 2019, para. 1). One prominent question institutional leaders should discuss when seeking accreditation is this; will the accreditation credential provide greater benefits to the college/school compared to the perceived value of the customer or the customer’s employer?

Value of ISO Certification

There exists a substitute for a traditional academic specialized accreditation that may simultaneously lend professional and marketing credibility to business programs and create a blue ocean for that institution. One world class sources for quality certification is the International Standards Organization (ISO) headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The ISO is:

an independent, non-governmental international organization with a membership of 163 national standards bodies. Through its members, it brings together experts to share knowledge and develop voluntary, consensus-based, market relevant International Standards that support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges…International Standards make things work. They give world-class specifications for products, services and systems, to ensure quality, safety and efficiency. They are instrumental in facilitating international trade. ISO has published 22708 International Standards and related documents, covering almost every industry, from technology, to food safety, to agriculture and healthcare. ISO International Standards impact everyone, everywhere. (iso, 2017a, para. 1-2)

According to one ISO consulting firm ISO accreditation brings the following benefits to an educational institution:
Properly implemented, ISO 9001 will bring the following to the education institution:

a shift in emphasis in schools, from a focus on the quality of the teacher toward the performance of the institution as a whole; the introduction of new or additional quality control mechanisms in higher education; the creation, for the first time, of quality assurance systems and performance-related mechanisms in continuing education and training. (advisera, 2019, para. 4)

ISO Certifies Premier Business Accreditation Agency

ISO certification also invokes quality recognition among industry groups, employers, those seeking a business degree and provides a unique competitive advantage. ISO has global “brand” recognition. ISO’s reputation for the certification of quality also provides current and potential students with the assurance that an independent international body with “a membership of 163 national standards bodies…covering almost every industry, from technology, to food safety, to agriculture and healthcare” (ISO, 2019b, para. 1) has deemed their choice for an advanced degree as a quality institution. It should be noted that one of the most prominent globally recognized business accrediting bodies, the AACSB, selected ISO certification to independently verify the AACSB’s quality management system. The AACSB stated:

Earning ISO 9001-2015 recognition demonstrates that AACSB’s accreditation division utilizes the same quality improvement processes that millions of businesses have embraced worldwide,” said Thomas R. Robinson, president and CEO of AACSB International. “This third-party review process mirrors philosophies of our own accreditation standards, and provides AACSB with an internal framework that ensures an elevated quality experience—with enhanced customer satisfaction—for our schools and volunteers globally. (AACSB, 2019, para.1)

Another highly regarded business school accreditation agency the ACBSP uses an accreditation process influenced by an independent industry standard, the Malcolm Baldridge model (ACBSP, 2019, para. 1). The Malcolm Baldridge model “is named after the late Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige, a proponent of quality management. The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology manages the award, and ASQ administers it” (ASQ, 2019, para. 1). ASQ is an organization with a similar, albeit unique mission, to ISO and is headquartered in the United States.

In the final analysis, independent accreditation of a business school’s product is important not only for verification of operational quality but also to guide it for continuous quality improvement. The choice of which accreditation organization an institution selects to verify the quality of its offerings historically defaulted to purely academic accreditation agencies.

However, the AACSB’s recent ISO 9001-2015 certification underscores the practicality, validity and marketing value of obtaining accreditation/certification from a global “industry” source rather than legacy academic establishment.

About The Author

Dr. Gary Keller is an award-winning educator and management practitioner. He has 30 years of teaching experience and more than 28 published articles including 4 Best Research Paper awards from international conferences and continues to serve as a referee for several journals and conferences. Presently, Keller is a tenured Professor at Eastern Oregon University (USA) as well as Professor of Management at Monarch Business School Switzerland. Dr. Keller’s main research interest is assessing the effect that management decisions have on the financial performance of corporations and not-for-profit organizations. Dr. Keller’s second research concentration is evaluating the impact that creativity and innovation have on transforming enterprises.

From 1987 – 2012 Dr. Keller taught as an adjunct and full-time Associate Professor in the College of Business and Management at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, WI. From 1996 – 2003 Dr. Keller taught in the international programs of several universities in Asia and recently (2016) was a guest professor at the Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration and (2017) at the Montpellier Business School (France). In 2002, the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, (ACBSP) a professional business school accreditation organization, awarded Keller a teaching excellence honor and in 2013 Monarch Business School – Switzerland awarded Keller its Outstanding Professor Award. Dr. Keller received his Ph.D. – Business Administration from Northcentral University in 2009. He also has a Master’s degree in Management and a Master’s degree in History. In addition to his teaching, Dr. Keller practices his academic skills as a consultant on strategy, project management, and process improvement.


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