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A sporting chance

Universities are becoming increasingly aware that top-of-the-range sporting facilities is key to attracting students

Posted by Hannah Oakman | September 16, 2016 | Facilities

By Hannah Vickers

In an increasingly competitive job market, it’s not enough for students to graduate with a good degree in the appropriate course. They need experience, transferable skills, and a CV full of extracurricular activities. To this end, students are becoming pickier when selecting a university. They no longer just apply for the most prestigious institution offering the most appropriate course, but want to know what else the university is offering.

Students now want, and need, to have it all: a good-quality degree and a well-rounded life on campus, offering them the opportunity to gain those very necessary transferable skills to improve their employability on graduation. Universities are responding to this need and are providing students with a wide range of extracurricular activities – one of the most important being sports. 

One of the main ways a university can make itself more attractive to prospective students is to invest in excellent sports facilities. Campuses up and down the country are seeing their rugby pitches, gyms, astroturfs, and swimming pools getting expensive makeovers by institutions which recognise the importance of being able to offer current and prospective students the best sporting facilities. Initiatives and campaigns are being introduced and mass participation in sports is being encouraged at a rate not seen before. We take a look at five universities that are doing it right. 

State-of-the-art facilities

The University of Bedfordshire has recently opened its new £5.1m sporting facility, with state-of-the-art gyms, multi-use games area, 300-seat arena, and an international standard hockey astroturf pitch. 

Vice-Chancellor Bill Rammell said that the student experience is the University’s highest priority and that sport is closely linked to their students’ success. Steve Pitt, Assistant Director of Sport, agrees. 

He added that the investment in their facilities shows that the university is serious about providing a rounded student journey and making sure that their students graduate with transferable skills. 

“Sport has the potential to enhance the student’s experience of university, as well as offering true life skills, such as teamwork, communication and resilience, all of which will help our students to develop to their full potential,” he said.

Another university to have understood the need for investment in its sports facilities is the University of Hull, which has announced plans for an ambitious £15m refurbishment and upgrade of its sports complex, due to start in May 2017. Among other work, they’ll be improving all three of their artificial pitches and introducing a new international-standard 3G rugby pitch – the only one in the region.

“Students can expect state-of-the-art facilities, on campus and on the doorstep of the onsite halls of residence, allowing all our students to experience an excellent and varied campus life,” said Sports Development Director, Steve Curtis.

It’s an investment worth making. The new and refurbished facilities, which will be designed and built to international standards, will encourage participation and enhance the student experience, as well as make the University a more attractive option to prospective students.

“Our students say it provides opportunities for an enjoyable way to be active and healthy, balancing student life and at the same time offering a chance to make friends and develop social relationships,” Steve enthused.

Encouraging mass participation

It’s not just about having top-of-the-range facilities. The universities that have seen the biggest rise in student participation in sports are the ones that have launched campaigns specifically aimed at students who hadn’t previously shown any interest in sport. 

The University of Bedfordshire has one of the largest sports participation programmes in the country and is constantly working to improve student participation in sports. The institution is currently into the fifth year of its Get Into Sports programme, which enables students to try out a range of sports in a fun, free, and non-competitive environment. 

“This project aims to give all students opportunities to participate and develop skills in sports, and to provide a clear route for them to get into further sport while at university,” explained Steve.

“We offer sporting scholarships to our elite performers to help them develop further in sport; we also offer competitive sport run by the Students’ Union as part of the British University College Sports league programme, covering 18 different sports; then to encourage mass participation we have a ‘Get into Sport’ project which aims to engage with anyone who wants to enjoy sport on a more social level,” he said. 

Leeds City College is similarly dedicated to encouraging more students to get involved in sports. As well as their brand new £25,000 sports facilities, which boast a new strength and conditioning gym and updated performance laboratory, it has an ActiveZone, which is as big as a five-a-side football pitch and enables students to play basketball, short tennis, dodgeball, indoor cricket, football, badminton and indoor hockey. 

Jo Tyssen, Leeds City College’s HE Business Development Manager says that it’s important to encourage all students to get involved in sports. The college will be introducing sports and fitness-related clubs next term, so that students will have the opportunity to coach and be involved in their own and others’ fitness programmes. 

“This reflects the ethos of sport and exercise for all and the benefits to be gained, physically, psychologically and socially, by participating in sporting activity,” she said. Her department works closely with sports clubs, employers and organisations to promote mass participation in sports, “as well as promoting inclusive recreation for all.”

This Girl Can

Fellow Leeds institution, Leeds Trinity University, is also concerned with inclusive participation. Despite having a large female population, the university leaders discovered that it was mainly male students that took advantage of the facilities. 

The University, one of the UK’s top for employability, has seen a huge rise in female participation in sports since it joined the national This Girl Can campaign. “And, unexpectedly, it’s started conversations in general about female participation in other areas of sport – not just taking part in activity,” said Hayley Cook, the institution’s Press and Media Officer. 

Leeds Trinity University also boasts an Elite Athletes Programme, to nurture its most talented players with learning and teaching support, access to the Strength and Conditioning Suite, free membership to the on-site gym, and tailored Sports Science Support. 

Balancing the need for state-of-the-art facilities and nurturing the talent of top athletes with encouraging mass participation is key, and Liverpool Hope University has mastered this balance. The institution has a brand new £5.5m sports complex opening in September, which after a one-off £25 induction fee is free for the whole year. 

The complex is part of the University’s £14.2m Sports Science Avenue, with the aim of combining health and sports sciences with student wellbeing, as well as to provide a central hub for sports participation and research on campus, said Dr Ian Vandewalle, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Operations) at Liverpool Hope University.

“The new sports complex will feature state-of-the-art facilities including a main sports hall with six courts and a viewing gallery, gym and fitness rooms, strength and conditioning suites, squash courts and a new café,” he said. The next phase of the ambitious development will be upgrades to the current football pitches, astroturf and rugby field.  

“As a university, our ethos is centred on developing the whole person. Having a positive attitude towards sports and health in general is a big part of that. At Liverpool Hope, we also pride ourselves on our strong community feel, and our students tell us how much team sports enrich their experience and sense of belonging,” said Dr Ian Vandewalle.

Getting nutrition right

But the way that the institution really stands out from the competition is by its dedication to promoting good nutrition as well as exercise. Liverpool Hope has set healthy eating and fitness for all as priority, because it recognises that exercise is just one aspect to a healthy lifestyle. The University has several initiatives in place, including Healthy Halls and the Big Apple Van, as well as getting involved with national campaigns like Wear It Pink and Movember.

John Ryan, Head of Student Welfare and Wellbeing, says that the Healthy Halls programme has proved popular. Students living in the University’s halls of residence are given access to a personal trainer and are given advice on cooking, sexual health, hygiene, meditation and mindfulness, and nutrition. “Combining fun ways of keeping fit with charitable activity, and involving the University’s sports department and utilising the campus sports facilities all helped to deliver a broad range of fun activities and get students involved,” said John. 

Universities wanting to provide the best student experience for current students and the best opportunities for their graduates, as well as make themselves more attractive to prospective students, need to make sure the services they offer are the best they can be. Excellent sports facilities are the way to stand out from the competition when looking to attract students. 

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