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Whether they study remotely or on Royal Holloway’s leafy campus in Surrey, students on the UK college’s MBA International Management programmes receive the same University of London degree.
Their experiences in achieving their degree vary widely, however.
For a start, the vast majority of those opting to study remotely are in full-time employment, while their peers on the “home” course take time out of their careers to study intensively.
The differences do not end there. Though the actual syllabuses are “remarkably similar”, according to Justin O’Brien, MBA director at Royal Holloway’s School of Management, the online learning MBA and MSc degrees are significantly more flexible – in their delivery, of course – but also in the range of electives.
After all, if you are learning in your own time, you do not need to think about whether options clash with each other on the timetable.
There are also more exams on the distance learning course – since presentations and group work are for the most part ruled out.
However, participants also attend two week-long plenary sessions (120 hours in total), allowing them to network with fellow students and benefit from some “face time” with professors and visitors.
“The most interesting part for me, was the sessions in London,” says Simarjit Chhabra, who works and lives in Australia and is in his third and final year of the MBA.
“It provided a platform to meet professionals of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds from more than 50 countries,” he says.
The ability to complete the programme from wherever they happen to be and in their own time is a big draw for students.
Albert Hetherington Jones, a business development manager at a translation company in Rome, says: “The main attraction of the course was that it was flexible enough to fit around my life. I am based in Rome, but [right now] I am in Copenhagen Airport after a meeting in Sweden. I constantly travel between several countries and I am unable to study fixed in a single place.” He is about to complete his MSc International Management.
Mr O’Brien agrees: “The ability to work flexibly suits people with crazy lifestyles. They don’t have to be sat at a computer with a headset at a particular time,” he says.
Indeed, unlike some other online courses, students complete the work in their own time – there are no “live” lectures or workshops.
Each of the nine compulsory modules and four electives takes six months to complete, and several can be done simultaneously – the MBA can be taken over a maximum of five years, although, in theory, it can be finished in little more than two.
“It suits people with families or who travel a lot,” explains Mr O’Brien.
Mr Hetherington Jones “would recommend [the course] to anybody who cannot put their life on hold to study, and who doesn’t know what they will be doing or where they will be in the short term”.
Postgraduate study is such a big financial investment that distance learning makes sense for those who might not know for certain that they will stay put for two years.
But online study is not for everyone, warns Mr O’Brien, who says it “requires a lot of self-motivation”.
Furthermore, the design of the University of London/Royal Holloway course is deliberately pared-down, with no bells and whistles, or “gimmicky” uses of technology.
“We’re quite a conservative, traditional college,” says Mr O’Brien. But this is a strength, he says. “We are keen to attract people from the remotest parts of the world – not only those with the best bandwidth.
One of the beauties of our programme is that we haven’t embedded massive files and multimedia,” he says.
“There’s no use having super-savvy stuff that works in some countries but not others. We can’t use Skype, for example, as it doesn’t work in China.”