Art and architecture students will have the chance to go to the biennales in Venice and Istanbul this year, as part of their degrees.

The College of Fine Arts (COFA) at UNSW offers The World Biennales: Field Trip, the first course of its kind in Australia.

One of those hoping to go again this year is Vi Girgis, a 24-year-old Master of Art Administration student, who went on the 2010 tour to biennales in South Korea and China.

"The trip forced me to immerse myself in the exhibitions, otherwise seeing art can be quite passive," she says. "We were able to bounce ideas off each other and really go in depth into certain artworks."

The course, which is being offered for the third time this year, gives students the opportunity to engage with international biennale exhibitions in a way that is not possible as an independent visitor. Students have access to leading international professionals including artists, curators and gallery directors.

The field trip was initiated after COFA's successful involvement in the Venice Biennale in 2009 under the leadership of curator Felicity Fenner.

"When I curated one of the two Australian exhibits at the Venice Biennale, I took five students with me," says Fenner, who is a senior lecturer in the School of Art History and Art Education. "They learnt so much. Australia is so far away and we don't have much exposure to international art."

Fenner returned at the end of 2009 with a group of 28 students, both undergraduate and postgraduate, and the course was born.

"It's a two-pronged approach. I discuss exhibition making, while my colleague David McNeil, who comes on the tour, is an art theorist and talks about individual works," she says.

The course is tailored to students' individual research interests.

"My interest is in how each biennale was curated," says Vi. "In Busan, Korea, the head of the biennale came from Japan to speak with us. In Shanghai, we were able to speak with the education outreach coordinator. It was Felicity's contacts which made all the difference."

Media contact: Susi Hamilton, UNSW media, 9385 1583 | 0422 934 024