Universities and colleges are getting non-traditional students into higher education as well as improving the health of the nation with an annual Pounds 73 million investment in sport, according to two reports out this week.
An audit of university sports by Sport England found that universities and colleges in England have between them 2,577 different sport facilities, including 41 swimming pools, as well as 139 sports halls and 541 hard tennis courts. Overall, university sports facilities receive more than 26 million visits a year and are available for non-students about 70 per cent of the time.
The audit says: "Sport can provide an impetus to get more people into higher education, and the increasing number and diversity of the student base can make a significant contribution towards sports' objective of moving towards 70 per cent of the population being physically active by 2020 (from the current level of 30 per cent)."
It found that just over half of the £73 million spent on sport is raised from running the facilities, with a slightly smaller proportion from grants from the student union or the university. Just £1 million, or 2 per cent of the total, comes from external sources or grants.
The second report, Participating and Performing from Universities UK, says universities and colleges offer sport to students, staff and the community as well as providing the research and facilities necessary for elite athletes.
It argues that the introduction of sports scholarships in the 1990s, and the decision by the government to place regional hubs of the Institute of Sport on university campuses, has revolutionised the role universities play in producing our best athletes. "In 1996, Sir Roger Bannister predicted that by 2010 a third of the UK's world-class athletes would come from higher education institutions. This has already happened," it says.
Ivor Crewe, president of UUK, said: "As we are now in the European Year of Education through Sport, it is timely to have these useful snapshots of the way sport and higher education are engaging successfully across the UK. UUK hopes this encourages further partnerships at national, regional and local level for the benefit of higher education, sport and the country as a whole."
At Hertfordshire University, students who qualify as coaches run out-of-school soccer sessions in 15 primary schools.
One headteacher said: "The university's sports development officer comes into assemblies and gives talks on the importance of teamwork, so it's really about developing children as people through sport."
The best players from the schools come for special training sessions at the new sports village in Hatfield. They are then linked with a professional club and its youth academy.
Fifteen students from London South Bank University, including five top performers, have delivered 450 hours of coaching to 300 children in nine schools, a further education college, a club and three local community groups through the sports ambassadors scheme.
Headteachers involved in the scheme all commented that sports had improved discipline among students.