Common health games

August 25, 1995

"Birmingham University has produced five of the 1994-95 England women's lacrosse team, and three senior men's hockey internationals last year. But for 55 years it has been supporting sport for the mass of students. When people came 50 years ago, they all were allocated one hour a week for physical recreation, and today we have an even bigger recreational programme.

Every week there are hundreds of classes, and our facilities include an Olympic-sized pool, Astroturf pitches for hockey and football, an eight-lane all-weather running track, squash and tennis courts. We are investing several millions in our facilities, and the most recent estimate was that around 80 to 90 per cent of the student body took some form of athletic exercise.

"We've introduced a sports scholarship scheme (worth an average Pounds 1,000 a year to the student) not to produce elite performers, but to enable young athletes who have already proved themselves - if they meet academic criteria - to develop. They have to be academically as well as athletically gifted. We don't make particular concessions to sporting ability in terms of offering places. And it's not a hot-house system - it's giving them financial support so they don't have to choose between sport and academia. We also offer a flexible study programme to ease the pressure. One of our scholarship holders, Charlotte Merrett, who is a senior Welsh hockey international, is taking a year out and will return in 1996.

"Of course, some universities will never be able to afford sports scholarships. There is a top group and there are also-rans."

Ian Cockerill, director of sports scholarships, Birmingham University

Interviews by John Davies.

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