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November 30, 2007

Running a university open day - a punter's perspective

This is way off topic for this blog but it's the weekend and I couldn't resist...  I'm recently back from yet another university open day, I won't say which, and I feel the need to pass on my top five tips for making them more compelling - from the point of view of the punter.

None of us particularly likes to admit it, but when I walk thru the doors of your university on the open day I'm a prospective customer, expecting to spend a fair old chunk of my annual salary over the next few years and I'm therefore someone whose concerns include things like value-for-money.  I want to think that my pride and joy is going to get a good standard of education (yes, 'good' is probably good enough - you and the government will probably call it 'excellent', but I'll know what you mean), is going to have fun, and is going to stand some chance of getting a half-decent job at the end of it.

Selling a university is a bit like selling a house... I'm not suggesting that you bake bread and make fresh coffee before I arrive (though fresh coffee would be nice) but look and feel is at least as important as substance.

So... what are my tips?

Firstly, you'll no doubt be spending some time talking to me and the other parents about the university and the course.  Give this job to your best lecturer, make sure that the technology they use to do the presentation actually works smoothly and work on their slides so that the rather dull content comes across as vaguely sexy (or at least using a modern style).  With a bit of luck I won't realise that you've done this especially for the open day... I'll just assume that all lectures in the university will be like this.  Don't give the job to someone that hasn't been on the Powerpoint course and doesn't know where the projector 'on' switch is just because they happen to be head of department.  And don't make this person wear a suit.  We've all seen far too many Open University programmes on BBC2 to fall for it.  If you're a bloke, wear whatever the current equivalent of a paisley shirt with big collars is.  Corduroy is fine (hey, how many times is it possible to say that!?).  Come across as comfortable and approachable.

And while we're on the subject of image, make the place look lived in.  Don't make me wait outside a cold breeze block lecture theatre in a cold breeze block corridor with nothing to do.  Put up some current student work and research posters for people to look at.  Have some art work on the walls.

Secondly, make as much use of students as you can.  Students are great... they're generally easy to get on with and it's easier to believe that they're telling you the truth.  Get one or two to help with the presentation - don't try and show me a video of them.  Ask them to be honest about what they like and dislike about the course and university.  It might be risky, but it'll pay off.

Thirdly, sort out transport on the day.  We all know that the public and/or university transport between campuses and to/from the city centre will totally suck once term starts but at least let us believe for one day that the system stands half a chance of working.

Fourthly, catering.  Re-read the above paragraph substituting 'catering' for 'transport'! :-)

Finally, sort out the weather.  OK, I know I'm being grossly unfair and that this is totally beyond your control but I'd be interested to know if there's any kind of correlation between numbers of applications in a given academic year and the number of hours of sunshine on the previous year's open days.  Even the worst kind of sixty's architecture can look half decent on the outside when the sun shines.  Throw in some rain or, worse, horizontal sleet instead and wild horses won't drag me back to your campus no matter how good your results are.

Yours tongue-in-cheekily, ...

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