University of Birmingham Degree in SIM Singapore: what you need to know before diving in

Most of the time, with product reviews, you’d compare your experience with two competing options, looking at things like design, features, specifications, user experience. It’s easy to put them side by side, manipulate them the same way, rate them on different measures. With education however, its often much more difficult given that most people wouldn’t actually do more than one bachelor’s degree in their lifetime. Sure, people could compare their experiences, but the key thing is that two people may have very different accounts of the same experience. We could compare objective measures of the same degree programmes published in rating sites, but some of the most important considerations in a university experience – the faculty and teaching quality, the content and their mode of delivery, the learnings from each module – are difficult to adequately compare between different courses.

I’d say that I’ve had a really solid university experience doing a University of Birmingham (UOB) degree in Singapore. I was exposed to opportunities during my university life that later landed me a job offer before I graduated, with a higher than average salary despite unfavourable market conditions. In this article, I’ll be sharing some of the pros and cons which led me to this favourable view, and in the process hopefully share something to help prospective students see if the UOB degree is something suited to their needs.
clocktower-in-the-university-of-birmingham-campus

Old Joe – The iconic clocktower in the University of Birmingham Campus – which I unfortunately have never been to ;_;

First off, a bit of background.

Back in 2012, having done terribly for my A-levels, I was looking for options to get better educated, and hopefully land myself a decent job. SIM was the default next choice after the 3 public universities, and I narrowed my choices down to two. Either the University of London BSc (Hons) Business or the University of Birmingham BSc (Hons) Business Management degree. The pivotal factor for me was the fact that the UOB degree was going to be assessed in a mixture of exams, assignments, and projects. If there was one thing I learnt from A-levels is that I don’t do great in one-exam-decides-all settings, hence UOL was out. There was one major issue however… Birmingham only accepted students coming in with a diploma as they only ran years 2 and 3 in Singapore, meaning I had to do a diploma to get in.

I took the leap and went for the 15-month SIM Diploma in Management Studies which, thankfully, was also assessed in a mix of exams and assignments, a story for another day. Suffice to say I did great (really great in fact… 3.83/4 J) and got into the UOB degree programme.

With a small enrolment of just over 200 students in its 5th Intake in 2013, it’s not surprising that few have heard of the University of Birmingham (UoB) suite of business degrees offered in Singapore at the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM). As compared to the more popular University of London (UOL) and Royal Melbourne Insitute of Technology (RMIT) suite of programmes which have a combined student population of over 20,000, the UoB business degree cohort is tiny.

Essential info

Duration: 2 years full-time, split into 2 semesters each year

Semester 1: Jul – Oct ->Semester 2: Nov – Feb -> Break: Mar – Jul

As at the time of writing, there are 4 bachelor’s degree courses offered by the University of Birmingham in Singapore.

  • BSc (Hons) Business Management (I took this, mods shown below)
  • BSc (Hons) Business Management with Communications
    • Has a different selection of mods, although with a considerable overlap
    • Mandatory communications-related internship
  • BSc (Hons) Business Management with Industrial Placement
    • Same mods as Business Management
    • Mandatory internship in an industry of your choice
  • BSc (Hons) International Business
    • Same mods as Business Management
    • Two semesters overseas with a choice of mods based on the host university’s schedule

Module Listing for the Business Management Programme: Note that some of these modules have been dropped from the current syllabus and replaced with others. To give you a feel of the course, these are the ones I took. These mods were non-negotiable.

Year Module (in no particular order) Assessment Mode
2 Change Management Exam
International Marketing Exam
Markets, Competition and Regulation Assignment + Exam
Market Research Assignment
Business Accounting Exam
Managerial Finance Exam
Research Skills Assignment
Services Marketing Exam
Event Management Presentation + Assignment
Operations Management Presentation + Assignment
3 Globalisation, Transnationals, and Economic Policy Assignment + Exam
e-Marketing Presentation + Assignment
Entrepreneurship Assignment + Exam
Strategic Management Assignment + Presentation + Exam
Dissertation Assignment (Duh)
Brand Marketing Presentation + Assignment
Employee Relations Exam
Social Marketing and Societal Issues Exam

 

1) I’ll start with the most important aspect of the programme: Faculty and teaching quality.

I believe that this is where UOB really scores top marks. Faculty members are all flown in to teach in Singapore by the University for each module. They spend 2-4 weeks in Singapore in a decent hotel and during that time, you’ll get one lecture from them each weekday they are here, sometimes but very rarely on Saturdays too (once or twice in each academic year, if at all). Depending on the prof, they may include tutorials. The most important bit here is that they are the same people who run the same mods back in the UK, and they set the exam papers for each class.

Most of the profs I had were passionate about teaching their subject, and taught their subject well. Being faculty members, they do their own research and publish their own papers in their specific areas of research as well, which they’d be delighted to share more about when asked. If you are looking for an overseas teaching style, this is a prime choice. You’ll get an actual UK University faculty to deliver the same lectures in the same style as they would in the UK right here in Singapore.

2) Content and Learning Style

If there’s one thing that struck me, it’s how many of my classmates were surprised at the lack of “answer keys”. In social sciences, there is no such thing as a ‘correct’ answer. There is only your stand and how you justify it with published research, examples, ideas, or models. So unless you’re doing a mod in finance or accounting, there is no such thing as a ‘correct’ answer. Even in those supposedly quantitative subjects, up to half of the exams can be essays asking you, for example, to explain the benefit of one accounting model as opposed to another.

This learning style is something that most of us would not be exposed to much in our school lives, particularly in Singapore. Before university, there are usually ‘correct’ answers to everything, even in subjects like General Paper. Yet, this sort of learning style is precisely what is differentiating about the Birmingham Business School experience. It’s not like what you’d experience in a Singapore school taught by Singaporean teachers, where disagreeing with the teacher with loses you marks.

I’d caution that while I really liked this learning style, I’m by no means saying that it isnecessarily superior. Many of my classmates would have preferred a learning style where they are encouraged to adopt a specific school of thought instead of having to make that decision themselves. At times, the teaching style may leave you feeling vulnerable like as if you didn’t learn anything simply because the prof is exposing you to different perspectives instead of encouraging you to adopt theirs. In the first semester, some of my classmates dropped out because they felt the teaching style was difficult for them to follow. It is up to you to decide if you learn best with this approach.

3) Lecture Schedule

As mentioned earlier, each module is delivered within two to four weeks. I enrolled in the BSc Business Management course, which is 240 credits. For 10 credits, you get an average of 10 lectures. Some modules are 10 credits, some are 20 credits. You’d get more contact time by opting for the BSc International Business programme, which is 360 credits and gives you two semesters overseas; one onsite at the University of Birmingham, and one more with a global partner of UOB. I was indeed jealous of those awesome photos that some of my International Business friends got studying in places like Copenhagen, Boston, Munich, and Seoul. That said, I was busy doing my banking internship which ultimately landed me a job, which in retrospect may have been preferable depending on your preferences.

This lecture schedule is a 50-50. Some may thrive in this format where you can focus only on one module for a few weeks, really getting into the thick of it. Others would have liked the modules to be spread throughout the semester instead. Bearing in mind that any exams that we’d have to take would be at the end of each semester, it may be difficult to refocus on content that was delivered at the start of the semester. Personally, I liked the structure, and didn’t really have a problem going through my learning material from early in the semester before the exams. I felt that being able to focus on just a single module at a time allowed me to immerse myself in the research and the various views within a particular field of study. This led to better understanding and aided me in forging my own views in each specific topic area.

ang-mohs

My Degree Congregation Ceremony – The ang mohs pictured are the real faculty members from the UK!

4) Degree Certificate Recognition

This is probably a question that weighs heavily on the minds of most prospective students. In case you’re wondering what these two years of study gets you, rest assured to know that the degrees you are given are identical to those that would be awarded in the UK. There is absolutely no sign on the degree cert that you studied in Singapore. Personally, I wouldn’t try to hide the fact that I took the degree in Singapore at SIM, I do not see how it makes me an inferior graduate.

Though some employers may look down on private degrees earned in Singapore, most private sector employers no longer discriminate solely on that basis. I secured an internship at a major US bank after year 2, which landed me a job offer even before my final exams. It’s incredible to walk into the exam halls with no worries about employment, particularly in a year where graduate employment rates are dropping.And no, it was not gotten through connections or friends, I got it through attending a recruitment event and applying online.

On the whole, I enjoyed my experience doing a Birmingham degree in Singapore. While I would have liked to go to the UK to do it, I have to face the fact that I was broke and didn’t want to spend more money going overseas. What I got in Singapore turned out to be a wonderful experience nonetheless. On that note, I sincerely hope that this article helped you make a more informed decision on your bachelor’s degree. I’d be happy to answer any questions in the comments below!

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Ali Ahmad Yaakub
Ali really loves eating. A lot. When he’s not experimenting in his kitchen, he’s out looking for food and good company to share it with. He holds a day job as an analyst in a bank, where he spends his time playing office politics and writing code. He’s also a current affairs enthusiast. After having good food, he likes to discuss matters of national interest world domination over a bowl of warm tau huay with peanut riceballs.