As the management education stage becomes more crowded, accreditation is becoming an increasingly useful benchmark that students, media and corporations use more.
Accreditation is synonymous with credibility and reliability and provides kudos to courses with it.
The European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), which already, under the guise of Equis, accredits business schools worldwide - 82 at the last count - has for the past two years been working on a quality development scheme for corporate universities.
The assessment system, known as the Corporate Learning Improvement Process (Clip), offers corporate universities self assessment against standards compiled by corporate university members, as well as an external review by peers.
In establishing Clip, EFMD worked closely with the Allianz Management Institute (AMI), which was the first corporate university to go through the assessment. Others followed: Alcatel University, Novartis Corporate Learning, Ergo Management Academy and Universidad Corporativa Union Fenosa. Each review takes up to three days, consisting of interviews, feedback and the compilation of a report.
“We are still in a learning phase and each time we work with a new company we learn more about the process itself,” says Gordon Shenton, associate director of Equis.
“We now have a better idea of where the pitfalls are and have more awareness of the issues.” Clip’s criteria framework is based on the Equis experience and methodology. Prof Shenton had anticipated that corporations would criticise the Equis experience as irrelevant, however, he says the companies seem to like it. He says Clip took the Equis strategy and merely reworked it, the basic logic remaining the same.
Prof Shenton believes that Clip, although still relatively in its infancy, delivers a great deal of added value.
“When we launched the process, I thought companies would want the benchmarking and quality improvement and that the accreditation, quality label side of things was not so important because they are not in competition with each other.
“But accreditation has turned out to be crucial - both the recognition within the company of the corporate university and that the corporate university is delivering to international standards.”
He adds Clip accreditation gives a corporate university something tangible it can show to its board.
Corporate universities sometimes have a somewhat fragile position. The EFMD Clip report states: “[CU] managers are in exposed, even solitary positions where they must constantly strive to remain strategically relevant and to be perceived to be relevant, to produce high-quality programmes and to be perceived to be doing so.”
An external quality label, he says, demonstrates corporate universities are recognised externally and are providing something tangible and of value to the organisation. For Jan Ginneberg, vice-president learning and development, global head of Alcatel University, the Clip accreditation is very much “the cherry on the cake”.
Alcatel, the communications group, has 15 universities around the world, serving more than 400 employees. Since 1999 the group has been bringing these training centres together, encouraging them to collaborate rather than work independently. Mr Ginneberg says Clip was the incentive the university needed to start benchmarking as one organisation. “It was the logical next step.” He is buoyant about Alcatel University’s (AU) experiences of Clip and cites several benefits.
In submitting to the Clip process, AU had to step back and acquire a more structured overview of itself and its operations, answering questions that would not come up in daily operations.
The Clip feedback was particularly useful. AU was able to use the feedback in its preparation in a discussion with its advisory board on the corporate university’s next move.
Clip also highlighted several weaknesses within AU, says Mr Ginneberg.The review revealed it was overstretched and running with a minimum of resources.
In response, the university created focus with a discussion about expectations. The internal operations structure has been modified to create a central organisation to co-ordinate the 15 operations. Mr Ginneberg says the Clip process helped in the positioning of AU within the corporation and findings of the review are still being used.
Mario Vaupel, head of the Ergo Management Akademie, the German insurance group, says the Ergo coporate university submitted itself to the Clip process for two reasons: feedback from peers and because the Clip review could be used for internal marketing.
“It was very helpful to get feedback from outside, to get a different perspective,” he says. An outsider’s view, removed from internal politics was most helpful for the academy in its internal promotion, he adds.
As at AU, the Clip review threw up several flaws in Ergo’s academy; Clip said the marketing of programmes was poor and that the academy needed to improve communications with customers.
Clip also suggested the Ergo academy could benefit from a steering committee and it needed more participants - it currently has 1,000 students a year out of its 50,000 employees - to achieve its goals.
Mr Vaupel says the academy found the last point particularly difficult - the high quality of its programmes demands intensive work with participants, which necessarily limits numbers.
Nevertheless, says Mr Vaupel, the Clip review was extremely useful and one the academy would submit to again. The Clip suggestions are being implemented and the process is ongoing.
There is no blueprint for a corporate university. Each company has to design its own solution, taking into account its structure and strategic objectives. Consequently, corporate universities will vary wildly.
However, the framework offered by Clip establishes a foundation on which companies can build, and as corporate universities struggle for recognition and strategic position, Clip confers an external legitimacy they might otherwise be hard pressed to acquire.