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UOB

Interview with Dr Michael Shulver: bringing online business courses to life

With three starts per year our Online MBA and Online MSc International Business courses have grown rapidly since their first intake in August 2015. At the forefront of developing these programmes has been Dr Michael Shulver, Director of Online Content for both courses. In this article, he shares admissions requirements, support available for distance learning students and the specifics of what makes these courses an attractive option for those wishing to continue their studies alongside work.

Michael said: “Our courses are alive and interactive. We have six modules a year, each run over eight weeks. In every one of those eight-week modules, there are four ‘Connect sessions’; live interactive sessions that run on Saturdays and are two hours, 15 minutes long, with a break halfway. In those, students have a space where they can present and discuss case study exercises, and interact with and challenge their tutors.

Our students are not going to be lonely long-distance learners. They’re going to be actively working with faculty and they’ll be able to talk to them live. When you allow everyone the opportunity to share their ideas, get time with their lecturers and truly immerse themselves in the online environment – that’s when great online learning really happens.”

Unlike some online courses, such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) which are open to all, the selection criteria for an online degree is as stringent as its’ campus-based counterparts:

“The learning outcomes and admissions criteria are the same, as is the final degree. We have ‘One MBA’”, he explained.

Therefore, both academic achievements and career history are examined to ensure that prospective students have the necessary background to complete their studies:

Michael continued: “Birmingham waives the GMAT but normally requires a 2:1 UK undergraduate degree or equivalent. Essential however, is a minimum of three years’ relevant managerial experience (for the Online MBA). Whereas the Online MSc International Business is a pre-experience degree...”

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While it is important to meet the criteria, applicants are also evaluated on an individual basis:

“Where I earn my living is dealing with the more marginal cases. With the MBA, for example, if someone doesn’t have a first degree, but has considerable strength elsewhere, I might just want to talk with them and do a little bit of digging. If someone doesn’t have the IELTS English language test score we want, I might ring them up and listen to their standard of English.

Such conversations are the more enjoyable part of my role as an admissions tutor. I did terribly in my first degree because I chose the wrong subject, but I redeemed myself later with an MBA and PhD. I do not want a poor first degree, or even no first degree, to bar an otherwise strong candidate from admission.”

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The courses also have recognition within the business world. The Online MBA is the world’s first 100% Online MBA to receive accreditation from the Association of MBAs (AMBA) and this is something Michael is delighted about:

“AMBA insists upon a significant level of interaction in MBA programmes, and the way that most distance learning programmes achieve that is to have a residential summer school. I thought we could do better than that, and explored technologies for creating interaction online.

AMBA saw the direction of travel for the industry, they knew there was a great hunger for the online programmes, but they were nervous – I think – about this interaction requirement. They wanted a clear demonstration and someone to deliver it, and we did.”

So, what of the future? Michael says he is always looking to improve the courses in any way he can:

“As a university, we offer value by guiding the student on a path through the content. We also have a charter - we can assess and award degrees - and that gives us a distinctive advantage over other providers.

I’m constantly searching for new technology. In my next operations module, we’re going to use a 360-degree camera. I want to show things like factory environments and service processes, where students can move around and be part of an operation.”

If you would like more information about our Online MBA, or Online MSc International Business, please fill out the request for information form or call +44 (0) 800 032 7101 to speak with a member of our Admissions Team.

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