TUAS to start fully virtual degree studies in 2017
Turku University of Applied Sciences is planning its first fully virtual degree programme. During three and a half years of online studies in English students will earn a bachelor's degree in business administration, specialising in international business.
Completely virtual degree programmes are a new domain for Turku UAS. An internal development team has recently started under the lead of Marita Antikainen, who works as Head of Part Time Education. The team consists of experts who have been working with international education, international entrance exams and with web pedagogics. The next step for the working group is to decide on the broad outlines, including the target group for the new degree programme.
Targeting business professionals
Studying online liberates students from the limitations of time and space, thus making it possible for the university to reach previously unobtainable target groups. Antikainen already has potential students in mind:
“Virtual studies make it possible for people who work abroad on a job stint to continue or begin their studies. Often, these people have the time and enthusiasm to study, but no access to traditional studies, Antikainen explains. Another possibility is to target foreigners in the local area. The degree also provides a possibility for people in working life to get the qualifications they might need to proceed in their careers.”
Generally in Finland it is possible to apply for Bachelor degrees directly after high school or vocational education. For TUAS’ new degree programme it is likely that applicants will be required to have work experience to be eligible. This targets the degree towards adults in working life. The planned starting date for the first students is in 2017. Before that a lot of work is required:
“There are some challenges which we need to solve before we can take in the first students. The most crucial one is how to ensure the identity of our applicants, as we are trying to also make the application process fully virtual. We need to be sure that the applicants taking the entrance exam are who they say they are. Similarly, to get access to TUAS' electronic systems the student first needs to prove their identity. In Finland, we have a reliable system where we use bank IDs as electronic identification, but the same approach cannot be utilised with students from abroad.”
Courses from academic partners
This is not the first fully virtual study programme in Finland. Antikainen's team is planning on benchmarking other Finnish higher education institutions for best practices. Besides the challenges, the study programme offers unique possibilities in how to organise the teaching. Similar to students, teachers are also no longer tied to a certain location. Antikainen is excited about the prospects:
“I see this as a great opportunity to enhance co-operation with our academic partners. TUAS already collaborates with partner universities in providing courses for students, but there is room to make the practice more systematic and continuous. Through virtual studies we can easily offer even more courses provided by our partner universities. We have already decided on many of the study modules and the content of the studies. Now it's a question of sorting out the practical issues and then marketing the degree programme to potential students. It is our aim to make the studies 100% virtual. Once we have perfected the process of making the international business programme virtual, we can start replicating the system to other study areas too.”