On university open day every Vice Chancellor prays for sunshine and a clear blue sky. Even ugly campus architecture or a grim urban location can look appealing bathed in the light of a bright autumn morning. This year open days have taken on an even greater significance as students measure what they see against the increased cost of undergraduate study and a £9,000 a year tuition fee. I have followed these changes from the ‘other side’ of the table. My eldest daughter is part of the first undergraduate intake to pay the increased fees. Attending University open days with her has been an education in itself.
We are sitting in a Languages Department classroom at a Russell Group university. Some parents are trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. While other parents are armed with burning questions, fists full of high lighter pens and clutching bright manila document wallets packed with QAA scores and RAE profiles. Ten minutes after the talk is scheduled to start the Admissions Tutor walks in. He is carrying an armful of prospectuses and what looks like a bucket-sized cup of coffee. “I am truly sorry everyone, I got delayed by enquiries at our stall on campus – it’s a bit of a One Man Show today. If you could bear with me, I just need to set up the PowerPoint.” The portly linguist then took another five minute to load his presentation.
With a blink of the projector his first slide appeared on screen. We are treated to a truly tortuous introductory talk lasting twenty minutes.
“I am so sorry some of the option courses listed on this slide are no longer available.” Trying to gloss over another error, he says: “agh... well those admissions figures are actually out of date now... but I can email you the latest figures if you would like me to.” An earnest parent asks a question about a particular joint honours degree. He replied: “Actually, I don’t know whether that joint degree programme will be running next year.” In a stumbling finale he confessed: “perhaps I should have checked the PowerPoint before giving this talk.” It was a sobering and salutary experience.
This excruciating experience was very much in mind as I prepared a ‘taster lecturer in Sociology’ for the Goldsmiths’ October Open Day. On that Saturday morning we were blessed with great weather, almost too good. Conditions perfect for sitting in a deck chair rather than a lecture hall. A half an hour prior to my spot I checked the lecture room, loaded the PowerPoint presentation before anyone arrived and left my cup of coffee in the canteen!
Fifteen minutes before the scheduled time of the talk prospective students started to file in along with some parents. I had time to kill so I asked a budding sociologist if she had been having a good day. She smiled and said “Much better than the other places I’ve been to!” Listing a series of our prestigious rivals she said she was surprised by how little effort they had put into their Open Days. It seemed to her to reveal something of the