"Virtual fair" at the University of Melbourne

Online university promotions are taken to a new level when people from across the world can visit the campus live – via the internet.

The University of Melbourne’s annual Virtual Fair (http://futurestudents.unimelb.edu.au/explore/events/virtual-fair) enables prospective students from all over Australia, and from various countries around the world, to view and interact with university staff and students. They can do all this from the comfort of their homes, simply by logging into the online fair.

The fair is set up with five different virtual “booths”, each with information about the university. One covers general information about university admissions. Another covers housing and the city of Melbourne. The remaining three booths cover various faculties and graduate schools.

Prospective students will have the opportunity to participate in webcasts, and to chat live with current students and staff. They can also watch videos presented by academics and students.

The fair runs for sixteen hours, allowing people from all over the world to log in whenever they want within that timeframe (a table on the Virtual Fair website lists the local times for each country).

The event was first run in April 2011. Virtual Fair coordinator Rhett Miller said that the Fair was introduced to promote the university on a global scale. “The idea behind it was to reach out to those parts of the world that we’re unable to travel to,” he told What Degree? Which University?. “There’s many parts of the world where, for security reasons, or just because only a small number of students come to the university, we’re unable to travel to. So the fair enabled us to engage with those students.”

Miller also described some problems that the fair seeks to address. “One of the issues that students often face in engaging with a big institution is the fact that there are so many different segments to it.” However the fair makes university information more accessible and easier to understand, because it is all in the one place.

He said that the university was able to market the fair overseas, mostly through the use of the internet and social media. “We promote the fair extremely widely, through a whole range of channels—obviously Facebook, Twitter—to all our representatives offshore, to all our sponsor bodies.” He added that it was marketed through overseas newspapers, particularly in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Miller pointed out that one major challenge is the language barrier. “This is something that I’ve considered: whether we offer something in particular in those languages that are very common amongst our student body,” he said. “In future it may be something that we certainly think about.”

The fair has helped increase applicant numbers—in the first year it ran, 150 subsequent applications were made. “We want to continue to promote the diversity of the student culture here,” Miller said, in regard to the fair’s objectives of increasing international student numbers.

“It’s almost like the equivalent of Open Day for international students because they can’t always physically be here. It acts as a way for them to engage with us in another way.”

The University of Melbourne Virtual Fair takes place from Thursday 11 April to Friday 12 April. Another Virtual Fair will run in September for prospective students in the Northern Hemisphere school sector. Visit the website here.