Open day staff lack the basics

March 4, 2005

I have recently accompanied my daughter on a round of university open days and interviews. Almost without exception, we have been depressed, discouraged and bored by the experience.

At one institution we were asked to arrive at 1.30pm. We then waited, for the most part standing, until 2pm when we were shown into a theatre for the event to begin. No one thought to tell us that nothing would be happening until then. At another institution, a total lack of internal communication meant that we were all given different arrival times and the tutor scheduled to talk to us never turned up.

Staff lack basic presentation skills. Examples include a head of drama who read his speech word for word from behind a tall lectern with a laptop on it, which obscured his face and masked his voice. At another university, a person - we don't know who he was because he never introduced himself - used a PowerPoint presentation that he read out to us in its entirety from his paper copy. He had to read it out because, with 19 bullet points per slide, there was no way his audience could read it.

Admissions tutors appear to have made three basic assumptions about parents of potential students. First, that we cannot read. I have sat and listened to a lot of people telling me what I have already read in their prospectuses and on their websites.

Second, that we have no knowledge of and have never visited any higher education institutions. Instead of dragging us en masse round campus to show us the Spar shop or cramming 20 of us into a student bedroom, why not give us more opportunity to talk to staff and students?

Finally, it is assumed that we are all more interested in where our children will live than in what they will study. More time is devoted to telling you the minutiae of what the different halls of residence have to offer than in giving information on the content and assessment of courses or on the careers followed by graduates.

My daughter is going to university to extend her knowledge, to be challenged intellectually and to live independently. Her decision, and mine, about where she will do that is based first and foremost on the course and second on the institution and the town in which it is located.

She is not looking for a glorified boarding school. Investing more time and thought into planning and running open days might result in institutions getting the students they want and students going to institutions that suit them.

Jill Brookes

Birmingham

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