Competition in the market for premium online MBA degrees continues to rise with the entry of another leading US business school.

The University of Maryland Smith School of Business is set to launch an online MBA programme that will use technology provided by its partner, Pearson Embanet, part of the global education group that owns the Financial Times.

The degree, which is modelled on the Washington DC school’s established executive MBA programme, will be studied almost exclusively online. There will be only two in-person residencies at the Maryland campus, at the start and end of the 21-month programme.

An online learning platform will allow students to access course material at their convenience, as well as enabling “live” in-person sessions. Students will connect face-to-face with faculty and their peers by simultaneously logging into a virtual classroom. Each course will include two live sessions per week.

“This programme is best for working professionals who can learn within a rigourous, structured programme, but more so on their own time,” says Anand Anandalingham, the Smith school’s outgoing dean.

The blended structure of synchronous and asynchronous learning follows the industry standard set by the MBA@UNC.

Launched in 2011 by the Kenan-Flagler school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the MBA@UNC made waves in the sector, largely due to its expense. Tuition fees for the next class are $93,500, a sum comparable to the school’s on-campus MBA.

The first students to enrol on the Smith school’s programme in January 2014 will be charged just under $80,000. This is very similar to its DC competitor, George Washington University School of Business, which launched its Digital Community Online MBA this year, with fees of approximately $78,000. Like Maryland, GWU teamed up with Pearson to develop this degree.

Kenan-Flagler emerged as a front-runner in the development of flexible premium MBAs through its partnership with 2U, the US education technology company that this year launched Semester Online, an online study network that unites seven US universities.

Pearson’s role as a leading provider of digital services to US universities has grown since its acquisition of EmbanetCompass for $650m in October 2012. Pearson Vue, its computer-based testing arm, has a long-term agreement with GMAC to distribute its GMAT test, an established criterion for entry on to graduate management programmes.

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