Obtaining a distance learning qualification from a reputable academic institution such as the Edinburgh Business School entails a lot more than simply paying course fees and receiving a certificate.
The business school, based at Heriot-Watt University, Scotland, offers a range of postgraduate business and management programmes, including a globally acclaimed online distance learning MBA programme. It has an international network of approved partners, including Hong Kong CyberU.
There are two main reasons for people to aspire towards a master of business administration qualification, says Keith Lumsden, director, Edinburgh Business School. These are to show others that they are suited for "society's difficult jobs", or to learn skills and to become a more effective manager.
The business school favours the latter approach. All the courses are grounded in the real world and aimed at helping people run businesses more effectively.
The programme involves a demanding schedule with each course culminating in a rigorous three-hour examination. It targets up-and-coming business people such as managers who already have other academic qualifications and extensive industry exposure.
"It took 15 years to develop the course material," says Professor Lumsden, who had the idea for a distance learning business course while lecturing at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business in the US.
After moving to Edinburgh to take the reigns at Edinburgh Business School, Professor Lumsden continued to explore his idea, eventually finding a recipe that worked. "Students learn by doing," he says, explaining that the courses include complicated models used in businesses worldwide.
The MBA programme was launched in 1989. By 1995, it was the world's largest, partly because of a lack of competition. These days, there are many more MBA programmes available, though not all are universally acclaimed. Since 2006, respected international finance title the Financial Times listed Edinburgh Business School's distance learning MBA programme as the second largest in the world.
Things have evolved over the years. The school now makes full use of the distance learning advantages offered by the internet. As such, Hong Kong students do not have to learn in isolation, since HKCyberU also offers classroom tuition. Since economic principles are universal, the courses are broad-based, Professor Lumsden notes.
The business school, which currently has 6,500 students, recently introduced a doctorate programme in business administration (DBA). "This offers a more cost-effective way of conducting research into a company's problems," says Professor Lumsden. Rather than hiring costly consultants, DBA students can benefit from the business school's own expertise.
The school also offers master of science programmes for people wanting to learn more about specialised aspects of business, such as human resource management, financial management, marketing and strategic planning.
Only five to six per cent of the school's MBA students graduate with a distinction. "These are tough courses, with tough exams. You've got to be highly dedicated to do this," Professor Lumsden concludes.