Scholars enjoy a sporting chance

July 21, 1995

Huw Richards and David Charter report on sport in HE and FE after John Major's announcement of a national review.

The relationship between sport and scholarship, not to mention the extent of sports scholarships, in British universities is greater than is generally realised.

Roger Bannister's new committee on sports scholarships will find several dimensions to this linkage. Sports science and sports studies have been among the main growth areas of recent academic expansion. The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences lists 52 first degree courses in their subject area - 26 sports science, 13 in sports studies and the rest in related topics - plus eight MSc courses. And it emphasises that this list is not comprehensive.

Wider aspects of sports studies are also growing. The British Society for Sports History has a mostly academic membership of just under 200. Sports sociologists had their own "Contested Spaces" theme at this year's British Sociological Association conference while Leicester University sociologists have an international reputation for their study of crowd disorder.

At the same time, support has grown for the practising athlete. The term "sports scholarship" summons up images of the American system, but the vastly different funding, student support and academic structures of British universities have led to the development of a very different model. Institutions insist that entry qualifications are maintained, with competition for support following rather than preceding admission. Buying time for all-rounders is the essence.

The model and its priorities are summed up by Swansea University's director of sport, Stan Addicott: "The ages between 18 and 22 are vital for anyone developing sporting ability. They need help and time to ensure that the balance is kept between their academic needs and progress in sport so that neither suffers."

A number of HE institutions have given priority to sport, among them Liverpool John Moores, Salford and Leeds Metropolitan. Particular schemes include: * Bath University. Its scholarship scheme, established in 1982, was examined by sports minister Iain Sproat during preparations for the National Heritage policy paper. The aim is to provide students who perform at international standards an extra year to complete degrees plus one-to-one mentoring throughout their time at the university. There are five current scholars, costing about Pounds 12,000 each per annum, plus a dozen or so on bursaries averaging about Pounds 500 per year to help with training, travel and competition costs. Numbers vary according to demands and the university's ability to raise funds. Former scholars include Great Britain hockey international Simon Nicklin and England A rugby player Gareth Adams.

* Loughborough University. Despite being the British institution whose name is most closely associated with sport - alumni include athletes Sebastian Coe and Steve Backley - Loughborough is only now creating a sports scholarship scheme. The university is seeking outside support, and will fund between 12 and 20 bursaries annually providing outstanding competitors with help likely to average about Pounds 1,000 per year. All departments and sports will be eligible.

* Swansea University. About 30 scholars receive Pounds 700 each year to assist with sport-related expenses, in a scheme started in 1985. Scholars are allowed to extend three-year courses to four years and Stan Addicott points to a flexible attitude by the university.

"It is accepted that they do not choose when competitions are held and that they should be accommodated by the retiming of exams or periods out to concentrate on training or competition," he says. Nineteen different sports have been supported. Alumni include Mark Bennett, David Evans and Andy Moore - all members of the Welsh Rugby Union World Cup squad - and England A cricketer Adrian Dale. Five past scholars, three of them swimmers, have won first-class degrees.

* Stirling University. Offers bursaries between Pounds 900 and Pounds 2,200 per annum according to the level of the competitor and allows recipients an extra year to complete courses. Started in 1982 the scheme concentrates on golf, swimming and tennis because of the quality of coaching and facilities - alumni include Curtis Cup golfer Katrina Lambert.

* Durham University. No scholarship scheme but an exceptional record of producing top-class competitors including England rugby union captain Will Carling and currently more first-class cricketers than any other university. Sam Stoker, principal of St Cuthbert's Society, who joins the Sports Council for 1996, puts this down to the efforts of dedicated individuals and the institution's preparedness to accommodate individual needs - it changed examination times and escorted several members of the Combined Universities cricket team to a Benson and Hedges Cup quarter-final in 1988 when Cambridge refused to do so. But it is now developing a more formal policy.

* Manchester Metropolitan University. The former Crewe and Alsager College's sports science department has no scholarship scheme, but operates the sort of flexibility that allowed Olympic cyclist Simon Lillistone to spread a three-year degree over five years.

The department receives 25 per cent of the Sports Council's sport science support budget and in September will launch a sports studies course timetabled for professional footballers.

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