Universities from Australia and around the world are taking part in the Google Online Marketing Challenge; a competition aimed at providing tertiary students with 'hands-on' experience in online advertising.
Student groups will receive money to spend on Google AdWords advertising, and will have three weeks to work in conjunction with local small to medium-sized businesses to develop online marketing campaigns.
"Online advertising is now an essential business requirement, yet, businesses tell us there are not enough people in the workforce with online advertising experience. Universities are ideal places for students to learn the practical skills needed in the workforce," said Deepak Ramanathan, marketing manager, Google Australia.
"Registrations so far, based on a few posts to email lists, are 200 classes in 40+ countries representing almost 8000 students," said Jamie Murphy, associate professor at the University of Western Australia (UWA) Business School, who played a major role in developing the Challenge with Google.
"As a lecturer I'm just gob-smacked to be able to give students this opportunity - it's real world, real money, working with real businesses," he said.
The student groups will be required to produce two competition reports; a pre-campaign strategy and a post campaign summary, with the top fifteen groups - five from each region of Europe, the Americas and Australasia - progressing to the final stages.
Murphy said that Google will be using its "magic formula" to whittle the hundreds of groups down to 15, based on the success of their AdWords campaign.
"Once we get down to 15 an academic panel then looks at the written reports... so one team might have an AdWords expert but if their academic reports are crap then they are dead."
Murphy said the academic panel will consist of around a dozen professors from all over the world, and that this method ensures that the driving force behind the challenge is an academic one.
"Colleagues and I have been hammering the academic side such as learning objectives, written reports on what it is like working within a team and with a client etc."
Seven Australian universities have registered for the competition so far, but Murphy expressed some disappointment that more tertiary institutions like TAFE have not yet got involved.
He said the responses he had received from businesses so far had been overwhelmingly positive.
"We ran some tests and dry runs and there were some really good outcomes. The small to medium sized enterprises are saying 'wow, this is unbelievable'. Some of these people had never looked at online marketing."
One business in Western Australia, Ineedhits.com, has already hired two UWA students based on their experience using Google Adwords, he said.
Students in the US have already setup an unofficial online social network for the Online Marketing Challenge, which is expected to be used as a forum for participants to exchange tips and tricks over the course of the competition.
Student groups from any tertiary education institution can enter the Challenge over any three week period from February 10 to May 24.
The seven local universities who have already registered groups for the Challenge are, UNSW, ANU, University of Western Sydney, Griffith University, University of Western Australia, Victoria University and Edith Cowan University.
Registrations close at the end of this month. More details can be found here.