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Accreditation is a generic term for a process to certify the academic quality of an institution or programme. The term 'accreditation' is used differently in education systems internationally. It is important that prospective students and indeed students have confidence in the integrity of the award they are signing up for and, for our programmes, this is guaranteed by virtue of the status of Heriot-Watt University as a Royal Charter institution. Information on accreditation and what it means is given below.

Institutional accreditation

In most countries, the approval or accreditation of organisations to offer higher education qualifications is governed by a national or provincial system; procedures for assuring academic quality are embedded in these systems and are carried out by approved agencies. In the UK system, institutions have an accreditation status by virtue of degree-awarding powers (recognised bodies) through a Royal Charter or an Act of Parliament.

'Accreditation' is the predominant term used in the US system and is technically a voluntary process undertaken by private, non-governmental, non-profit organisations. In the US system, primary responsibility for higher education rests with states, not central government, and institutions must be authorised or licensed by a state to operate.

The UK system does not divide approval and accreditation in the same way as the US system and 'accreditation' (i.e. the assurance of academic quality) is integral to degree-awarding powers.

Professional bodies

The UK has a number of chartered bodies that accredit awards in particular disciplines such as engineering and other sciences. Such accreditation is recognised by equivalent organisations internationally and may be a requirement for professional practice.

Voluntary accreditation

There are a number of agencies that offer accreditation for programmes, disciplines, schools and institutions for which there is no legal, regulatory or professional requirement. Such forms of accreditation are entirely voluntary and may be of greater or lesser significance according to national or cultural perceptions. The presence of unregulated providers in the global education market creates a threat and leads to market pressure for visible evidence that a provider is credible. For universities in the UK sector, such forms of accreditation are a means of enhancing image, particularly in subject areas that have a strong international reach such as business education. Such approvals are not necessary to demonstrate quality, as they may be in other markets.

To date, EBS has not sought to pursue additional accreditation from the main agencies that provide value-added accreditation for business programmes: EQUIS (the European Quality Improvement System); AACSB; and AMBA (UK Association of MBAs).

Recognition and credit transfer

Increasing globalisation and professional mobility has led to a significant increase in students engaging in education across national borders. As a consequence, there is a need for academic institutions, evaluation agencies and employers to be able to assess the value of a particular qualification. A key principle in this process is that decisions on the value of a particular award, programme of study or part thereof are the responsibility of the receiving institution or organisation.

Awards from UK universities are normally accepted as being equivalent to similar qualifications across the world.

At EBS, we assess the equivalence of international qualifications for the purposes of matriculation and awarding exemptions and/or credit transfers. EBS makes use of UK Naric, a national agency that provides information on international qualifications. Naric is part of a wider network of centres across Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US.

In Europe, the Bologna process seeks to develop mutual recognition of qualifications and support student mobility. Scotland was one of the first of 45 countries to commit to this process to verify the compatibility of its national education framework (the SCQF) with an overarching qualifications framework developed for the European Higher Education Area (EHEA).

The SCQF credit system is based on learning hours, with one credit within the system equivalent to ten learning hours. EBS courses are based on 20 credits at Masters level (200 learning hours). This translates as ten ECTS credits under the European system. Both the SCQF and ECTS systems are based on total learning hours; this differs from the US system, which is based on credit hours equal to the hours spent in the classroom. Typically, the Scottish tariff can be divided by four to illustrate equivalence to a US system.