It’s that time of year. People are thinking of ‘doing something’ at a university this year. My Inbox has held a variety of enquiries in the last few weeks so let me draw on that for a few key points. Key questions have been: will it further my career; can I study overseas; how do I know if the place is any good? Let’s take these in reverse order.
Is it any good?
For the purposes of this article, let us assume that ‘any good’ means:
- It looks good on the cv. It does not devalue your cv and, preferably, it enhances it.
- It provides courses that you find interesting and entertaining enough to be worth your time and effort.
The first point has already been addressed in the Brantridge post. Simple checks involve ensuring the university has national accreditation (if that is the norm in your country), regional accreditation if you are in the US, does not appear in Bear’s Guide in the diploma mills section if it is a distance education provider and, if you are crossing national borders, check with the cultural department of the relevant embassy. Check also in the most trustworthy online education pages from relevant newspapers for scandals, financial and accreditation concerns and just see if your chosen university gets a mention. Ten minutes research can save a lot of pain.
The second point is much more subjective and, for this, you really need to know current students or a very large group of past students that together cover a long period of time. Bad university courses do not come good overnight and really good ones take time to decline unless there is a complete change of staff (check!). I do not know a single good university – or even a few bad ones – that will not put you in contact with current students if you ask for help in deciding if the course is right for you. Of course, the students to whom you are directed are aware of their ambassador status so if you can take them and a group of their friends for a cup of coffee, you may get a more rounded view. You can also look at online sites containing student reviews of teachers. The standard faculty support to colleagues who get bad teaching reviews is that it is only the students with an axe to grind who bother to do the reviews. Treat them with the same caution as you would TripAdvisor or some other holiday site but add them to the mix.
Can I study overseas?
Short answer: yes. Many people still think it is essential to at least enrol/register in person. It isn’t. ‘Overseas’ can, of course mean two things: in the country that issued your passport while you are away or, in a country different from the one that issues your passport. For English speakers, there are high-calibre universities all round the world that offer business and ICT courses at all levels and many of them are not in ‘English’ language countries. If you are one of the people caught in the UK’s ELQ funding battle (equivalent or lower level qualifications), you could do worse than get on the internet and do some research. Wherever you are, do read the documentation carefully and make sure you see some academic writings from the place before you enrol: if the professors barely speak English, you may want to think again even if the accreditation of the university is excellent.
Will it further my career?
A quick web search found several bodies that offer to help you gain a university place overseas. All gave great quotations from international bodies about how they value employees and recruits with international experience. That is often true. Whether the agencies are any good is another matter although some may be.
If you are already in employment or if you know what career path you wish to pursue you must, no excuses, check with both your chosen university and your chosen professional body that the course will count. Get the answers in writing from both of them. It sounds bad when you like the people but if it is your career at stake in three years time, you may need evidence. Be very precise in what you are asking and make sure you include the expected enrolment date and the expected completion date. If you are heading for a profession where ‘who you know’ is going to be important, check where the key players went to university and see which universities their youngest employees attended. (Do not worry if the two are very different in style but consider what skills and attributes are now being sought.) If you can, check how much people in that profession value overseas or multicultural experience.
If you have no idea what career you wish to pursue, you have some serious thinking to do. Certainly, avoid the diploma mills as they, sooner or later, will cause you real problems. If you are in a job that requires ‘a degree’ for promotion you may be tempted to go for the quickest and easiest option but is that really what you want or, when you make a success of your promotion, are you then going to be faced with having your degree put alongside that of someone who did a much more demanding degree?
Alternatively, do you really want just to establish a network of lifelong contacts? If that is the case, will you now fit socially into the university you would most like to enter or do you need to do some aculturation work? Aculturation, in this context, may mean the language you speak, the way you speak it, manners, sports – even doing some solid academic work (perish the thought!). The bottom line is that good universities everywhere that will enhance your longterm career expect you to demonstrate academic outcomes before they award degrees or diplomas. The academic work is unavoidable. The social side is frequently attractive and may – without guarantee of any sort – lead to fascinating and unforeseen career breaks if you are prepared to adapt. Have fun!
The second part of this article will look at the pros and cons of online/distance learning overseas.