Posted by: Gillian | September 8, 2008

Accreditation – what is it?

Following on from yesterday’s quick note about Robert’s useful list of diploma mills, it seemed useful to add a post to answer the question, ‘What is accreditation?’  It is a question that has been addressed in part in previous posts (see Brantridge Annexe and Overseas part2).  Here are the key points:

  1. Institutions, their programmes or parts of programmes (a course or module) can all be ‘accredited’ separately by different bodies for different purposes.
  2. Institutional accreditation is usually carried out by a national government department.  The purpose of this type of accreditation is to make sure that the financial and educational aspects of an institution meet legal minima.  In effect, this accreditation is a national licence to operate.  The quality of programmes within an institution may vary considerably but there will be processes in place to deal with problems, update programmes, train staff and ensure that once programmes have started, they can be completed.  For UK universities and colleges see the DIUS site.  Note, this does not list universities and colleges operating in the UK but based overseas.  The USA operates Regional accreditation as well as National and you can check your institution here.   You can also check Robert’s online guide to diploma mills.
  3. Institutions without national or US-Regional accreditation may be perfectly  good and just ‘somehow’ outside the system but be very careful.  If in a country such as France where the State still controls almost all the education system, check with a relevant professional body that your degree/diploma will be recognised not just at your current job level but also after one or two promotions.  If in a country where national accreditation does not mean very much, one way of checking the international standing of the programme you wish to follow is to see where else the professors are invited to speak and which professors at recognised overseas institutions come to speak.  Does the university attract several well-known speakers whose work can be found on their home-institution website?  Is their home institution part of the same commercial group of universities/colleges or is it different?
  4. Programmes or parts of programmes may be accredited by employment-sector groups. In regulated industries (e.g. electrical engineering, psychology) you need to check that the precise programme you want to follow is the one that is accredited as a mistake may mean you have to follow another complete degree programme from the beginning.
  5. Some programmes (especially business) and some styles of learning (especially distance learning) attract accreditation bodies.  These can be very useful in terms of raising standards or enforcing adherence to a set of standards, are frequently time-consuming for the institutions that seek them and are usually paid for.  Why a business school would want the expense of three major accrediting bodies is not for me to answer – and there are those who offer very solid programmes with no such accreditation.  (See, for example, the explanation at Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University. )
  6. Accreditation of one programme within a School/university/college, does not mean all the rest have been accredited.  Check the brochures to be sure the programme you want is the one (or one of a named group) that has been accredited.  Of course, the other programmes may be just as educationally sound but you may need to follow an accredited programme to meet professional criteria or obtain funding.  The other programmes may not be accredited because of the cost and time issues or they may be good but just not meet the accrediting body guidelines or they may be too new or they may, quite simply, just not be very good.  You have to decide and that means talking to both staff and recent students.
  7. Occasionally, programmes are run on the premises of nationally accredited institutions but are, in fact, not part of the university/college at all.  Check the university’s main website or visit the main Admissions office to be sure.  Even if the extra programmes use some of the same staff as the main university, you need to treat them as separate entities and check the accreditation separately.

Wherever you go, good luck.

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