On both Birmingham’s online MBA and MSc International Business, groups of up to 25 students share ideas, discuss case studies and connect with tutors and lecturers in an immersive online learning environment. The sessions are two and a quarter hours long.
It’s a pioneering approach which attracts students from around the world. Across both programs, 63% of students are international with 86 nationalities represented. 47% are women. The online MBA costs £18,000/$24,000 and the MSc £12,000/$16,000.
Birmingham Business School at the University of Birmingham has a global reputation and an impressive address book of corporate partners including Accenture, Aldi, HSBC and PwC. Plus, this year, Birmingham’s Online MBA became the world’s first fully-online MBA to receive full accreditation from AMBA, the Association of MBAs.
Admissions requirements for the MBA are flexible; 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. Whereas the MSc International Business is a pre-experience degree.
Michael Shulver, director of online content at Birmingham Business School and designer of both programs, takes a pragmatic view of admissions.
What do you look for in your online MBA and MSc applicants?
At one level it’s really straight forward. There’s a set of admissions criteria and for the majority of candidates we just apply those in an algorithmic sort of way.
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.
Why did you decide to waive the GMAT for your aspirant MBAs?
I’m really not impressed by the GMAT.
At my previous school, I was seeing students with very high GMAT scores who weren’t that hot on the program. High GMAT scores are great for rankings performance, but they cannot be allowed to overly influence selection. GMAT is just one piece of data. I was losing richness and diversity in my cohorts because of an obsessive focus on GMAT.
What makes Birmingham Business School’s online programs unique?
Our courses are alive and interactive.
We have six modules a year, 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.
What developments do you have in mind for the future?
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.
How do you counter the challenge posed by the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)?
What MOOCs can’t give to students is a managed journey through the content. Students are left to their own devices and because of that the progression rate is very small; thousands of people register for them but hardly anyone completes them.
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.
How did the MBA’s AMBA accreditation come about?
AMBA insists upon a significant level of interaction in MBA programs, and the way that most distance learning programs 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 the industry, they knew there was a great hunger for the online programs, but they were nervous – I think – about this interaction requirement. They wanted a clear demonstration and someone to deliver it, and we did.
How do online programs compare to the traditional classroom-based model?
We are not trying to emulate or compete with the full-time campus-based MBA model. The markets are very different. I did an MBA full-time, and it was a wonderful experience, but eye-wateringley expensive because of the year out of work.
Our competition is the “DL / Blended / Summer School” model. Summer schools have students in very large classes, where interaction is limited. Summer Schools take valuable holiday time away from family life. Summer Schools require at least one expensive air ticket!
With our online programs we’re creating intimacy. Online there’s nowhere to hide; everyone interacts. It’s also more time efficient; you can work from anywhere. It’s different and it’s better for those who would never be able to come to campus.
We can still be relevant as institutions, but with online courses we can work with larger numbers, in cleverer ways.
How do you support your students in terms of careers?
Our Careers in Business team are available from day zero. As soon as students have accepted an offer – even before they join – they can talk online to the careers team. There’s direct support on, for example, resume preparation and interviews.
Birmingham Business School’s free webinars give prospective students a flavor of the online programs before they apply. The next free webinar is scheduled to take place on Wednesday 17th August at 13:00 (BST). You can watch a video of the latest webinar here.