Terry Hall worked in the Marketing and Communications department of a large Midlands university. Here, he shares his thoughts on the true value of Open Days.
Open Days were a real eye-opener. My department used to look after the welcome desks where students and their families would register their attendance at the open day, get a bag of goodies and a guide for the day, and ask their first questions.
Halfway through a chat with a family from Ipswich at about 9.00am (they must have got up at about 4.00am to be there), I realised why the work I was doing mattered. Here were people looking for a future: a young girl about to face a new life, a mum and dad about to say goodbye to their daughter for three years, a family hoping that our university was the best place for a good education. It was humbling. I remember others.
A gentleman from southern Europe approached me with a cheque written out for all three years of his daughter’s course. They both looked exhausted and a bit lost. I took them straight to the finance department for the safety of his money, and to the refectory for a complimentary meal.
One young lad and his dad turned up at 8.30am, having travelled overnight from Ireland because of weather problems with ferry crossings. The open day wasn’t due to start until 10.00. We gave them their own personal tour of the university.
One father asked me at the welcome desk to tell him why he should entertain the idea of sending his daughter to our university. I felt the desk around me go quiet. I took a deep breath and told him my own experiences as a new student there some years before. I told him of the city, the social life, the work, the pressures and the pleasures. I was honest and didn’t pull any punches. He listened, nodded and thanked me. That next September I saw his daughter walking to the new IT block, and I allowed myself a smile.
I asked myself the worth of all the marketing literature I was writing, compared to ten minutes of honest chat at on open day. That’s why open days matter. And why scurrilous headlines about fees and ‘mickey mouse’ courses don’t.
When you’re there you can breathe the air, talk to who you want, look around corners and ask if it’s right. You can find out the truth about HE. You can see for yourself.