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Saudi student virtually clinches doctorate in online exam


A University of Wolverhampton postgraduate student successfully completed his doctorate from 4,500 miles away recently when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted his studies in the UK.

Abdulrahman Al-Shabeb, 31, a PhD student from Saudi Arabia was about to complete his doctorate after working on his thesis: The potential of using mobile social media applications for language learning: A case study in Saudi higher education.

Following the lockdown restrictions imposed in the UK due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Abdulrahman was trying to make his way back to his home country of Saudi Arabia but had to curtail his journey in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where he is currently being hosted by the Saudi Embassy.

The international student was due to take part in his viva voce, an oral test during which a PhD candidate defends their thesis in front of a panel of examiners, in order to complete his studies.

The Doctoral College at the University moved most of their postgraduate learning online when the pandemic halted face-to-face teaching but decided to hold the first ‘virtual viva’ to be held with a student outside of the UK. The Saudi Embassy in Abu Dhabi hosted the oral examination which took place using Microsoft Teams.

Abdulrahman said: “Having reached the end of my PhD journey, I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Ambassador, Turki Aldakhil, for assisting me with my PhD viva; I am delighted with the extent of the support I received from the Embassy. I was also impressed by the ease and efficiency of the technology, which helped the whole process to run smoothly.

“In addition, I would like to thank the Examiners and Chair for the informative and useful discussion during the viva. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to my supervisors, Professor John Traxler and Dr Howard Scott, for their advice and expertise throughout the process. And of course, my appreciation goes to my sponsor family for their love, patience and prayers throughout the whole of my PhD journey. I am so proud to now be a graduate of the University of Wolverhampton.”

Megan Lawton, Professor of Learning and Teaching in Academic Practice in the College of Learning and Teaching at the University, said: “The online viva was a liberating experience as it proved that the lack of physical proximity was no barrier for a robust and insightful academic conversation/oral examination. I would hope that in the future online vivas will be used more - particularly for students living in other countries. It also opens up the opportunity to involve examiners from across the world.”

Dr Jenni Jones, Associate Professor in Coaching and Mentoring in the University of Wolverhampton Business School, said: "As Chair, I was concerned about the reliability and potential distraction that the technology might bring to such an important day for Abdul, but we all met up virtually and tested the equipment the day before, and thankfully it all went smoothly on the day too. My thanks to everyone involved." 

Dr Palitha Eririsingha from the University of Leicester, said: “I’ve enjoyed working with you on this viva. It was my first experience of working remotely with the viva panel and the student. Everything worked very well due to clear communication, the detailed planning that went on prior to the viva and the pre-viva meeting. I’ve stolen quite a few tips on examining and chairing too.”

The viva was the last stage of Abdulrahman PhD and, although he has a few amendments to make to his work following the viva last week, he is now an academic Doctor. 

The online viva was televised by Alekhbariyha TV in Saudi Arabia.

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