Don's diary: Rubber possums at the ready

November 15, 2002

Sunday

Touchdown in Adelaide at 6.30am. Customs staff sport a spray of flowers as a sign of respect for the Bali bomb victims. The arrivals hall is packed with relatives of the Australians on the flight, now reunited after some of the most traumatic weeks in their country's recent history.

I am here to address the National Association of Prospective Student Advisers (Napsa) biennial conference.

Monday

Attempts to take photos of animals at Adelaide zoo come to nothing - the kangaroo has taken cover from the heat, koalas are absent while their compound is upgraded and the Tasmanian devil's bid for freedom last night ended in disaster when he wound up in the big cats' cage!

Afternoon is occupied with a pre-conference briefing at Adelaide University. Despite half a world's distance, the issues faced by higher education (how to achieve growth in a static market, whether to compete or cooperate with neighbouring institutions) are the same.

Tuesday

Awake to learn of shootings at Monash. Yesterday's discussions with Adelaide staff on their "one-stop shop" for student queries revolved around accessibility and staff safety.

Visit the Migration Museum, which charts settlement in Australia. A wall at the end allows visitors to display their thoughts on immigration control policy. Most of the enthusiasm for stricter legislation is expressed by UK visitors to Australia.

Wednesday

Napsa conference kicks off. Arrive early to meet my minder, Sophie Bosher, admissions officer at Flinders University, and a Brit.

My keynote speech on the challenges facing recruitment and admissions in the UK points up a number of issues: widespread interest in institutional cooperation over schools liaison and widening participation, but disbelief at the inefficiency of an admissions system that requires applicants to make up to six choices of institution nine months before they gain their exam results.

Evening entertainment is a beach barbecue with Hawaiian shirts and grass skirts the order of the day.

Thursday

Discussions on the use of advertising to promote courses throw up the revelation that ten New Zealand higher education institutions spent NZ$15 million (£4.6 million) on promotion over a 12-month period - New Zealand has a total population of 4 million.

Conference also considers the impact of Bali and Monash - concern that proposed government investments in the sector will be diverted to intelligence and security spending.

In a presentation on UK student recruitment, I reveal the foam-rubber frog that the University of Essex hands out to prospective applicants at conventions. I am inundated with requests for packs of our literature "including one of those frogs". Anticipate the youth of Australia will be bombarded with rubber possums and wallabies in the next recruitment cycle.

Friday

Conference ends with discussion of Napsa. My comments on the role of the Higher Education Liaison Officers' Association in the UK have won adherents. The Napsa AGM considers running a training course for new staff, developing a set of health and safety guidelines and establishing a website to give cohesion to an organisation that remains state and regionally oriented.

Mike Nicholson is head of student recruitment, University of Essex, and national training officer for the Higher Education Liaison Officers' Association.

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