Prospective students will be able to shop for higher education in a virtual mall next year.
The United Kingdom Higher Education Mall will present users with a computer-generated mall, or centre, allowing them to browse in various "shops" and rooms, each offering information on graduate and postgraduate courses and job opportunities.
The project is being led jointly by the Higher Education Funding Council and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, with support from other organisations, including the British Council and Department for Education and Employment. A pilot system is being set up and will be expanded for next academic year.
School pupils will probably be the first to use the mall on CD-Rom from next summer. They can go to a reception area where they can access a routefinder or go to a help desk. From there they can move around looking at shop windows where organisations and institutions have set up stalls.
There will also be seminar rooms where they can access stores of information on higher education.
Meeting rooms will enable "pre-booked" discussions of subjects relating to the information in the seminar rooms. Individual university prospectuses will be in a virtual library.
Thematic zones will give information about institutions, courses, student funding and research as well as higher education management and policy. A job centre will allow employers to seek out employees and students to check out job opportunities.
HEFCE has put the project's management out to tender and is expected to announce the successful bidder in January. Information technology companies such as BT are expected to submit bids.
4 NEWSThe Times HigherJDECEMBER 25J1998 The cheek of it: the kissing culture of New Year festivities shocks some students from abroad and attracts others