Studying overseas does not always require physical relocation and there are several reasons why taking a distance education programme internationally can be an excellent idea.
If you are working away from home
- A home-based degree may be easier to match into your employer’s career structure or the criteria for your professional body
- If you are posted or move elsewhere, you can stay with the same programme
- If you return home, you may have the option to join on-campus classes with no need for retakes or extra ‘academic residency’.
If you are in your own country looking for a course ‘overseas’
- Your search can start by looking for the best course for you anywhere in the world, not just what happens to be available at home
- Online study groups can build international friendships and cross-cultural understanding
- You are likely to gain an international perspective on your topics of choice
- You may be able to study in more than one language and have this reflected in the final award – which can be useful in the employment market
- You may be able to find a programme where the contact hours are easier to fit around your working day.
- If you are not eligible for free or subsidised tuition in your own country, you may find that ‘overseas’ fits your wallet as well as your education and quality needs.
Preparation for overseas distance learning
In addition to the points raised in University Overseas Part 1, there are several factors that need to be considered before you sign up and two that need extra emphasis.
First: check and double check the accreditation especially if you want a professional body to recognise the eventual award. Websites of some institutions are covered in near-meaningless accreditation badges and others that are highly reputable choose not to join education-industry schemes. For one reason why not, see the Edinburgh Business School accreditation page; their very solid and successful MBA programme does not have AACSB or EQUIS accreditation, nor does it seem to need it.
Second: avoid places with high pressure sales tactics. If they phone you three times in a week and offer a discount if you enrol by a certain date (as once happened to me), ignore them – or at the very least put the phone down, go and have a coffee and talk it over with someone else. Yes, education costs money; education is also more than a simple product transaction. Finance in overseas distance education also needs organising (see below).
- Do you meet all the entry criteria? Subject, age (often higher than face-taught courses) and language criteria are obvious things to check but you may find more general requirements related to the local high school certificate or national security.
- Are you suited to distance learning? This question is the same as for in-country distance students but with the added dimension that if there are problems, it is less likely that you will be able to transfer to the campus-based programme – if one exists.
- Are your foreign language skills up to it? Unless it is a language course, if you are accepted onto the programme it is not the tutor’s responsibility to translate, slow down or give you language lessons.
- Are their language skills up to it? If the written materials are great but the online audio meetings are unintelligible, you may have a very unhappy experience.
- Can you physically take the exams and tests required throughout the course? If your nearest test centre is inside a military base, however close it is, the answer may be ‘no’.
- If the local times for you and the university are different, does this matter and can you adapt to it? Remember to check library hours and tutor contact hours as well as online seminar times.
Finance is especially important.
- If you are eligible for grants or subsidies in your own country, are you still eligible for these if the course provider is outside the country?
- Conversely, are there grants and scholarships open to you as an international student in the overseas country ? (Check with the university and with the embassy.)
- Are you able to transfer sufficient funds legally? The major distance education providers have a series of local agents but some, equally reputable, require fees to be sent to the host country in their own currency and through specified channels so that they can not be accused of money laundering by their own governmental authorities.
- If the exchange rate varies over the expected length of the course, can you afford it? Some currencies are more volatile than others but degrees are expensive so even a two per cent variation can be noticeable.
After all of that and an adult lifetime in international distance education, the benefits of such programmes can be enormous. The best quality programmes themselves tend to have international employer recognition so an employee or job candidate with such a degree is likely to be well-regarded. There is also the undoubted benefit of establishing an international network of friends and colleagues that many independent students initially discount as unnecessary but that often turns out to be a welcome bonus or even ‘the best bit of the course’.