Sporting chances

July 3, 1998

YOUR editorial (THES, June 5) said that "the access challenge facing further and higher education in Britain is that of attracting young white men from lower socio-economic groups". You asked "Could sport be the key?" and referred to the importance of "college sport" and the "creation of Gazza chairs".

I congratulate your foresight. This access route has had a great deal of success, often with the support of outside organisations.

The academic study of sport and related areas (exercise, coaching and leisure) has mushroomed in the past 25 years. It is a popular choice with application to admissions ratios often in excess of 20:1. Institutions are aware of the interest and various strategic decisions have been made to maximise the massive potential of sport.

Competition for places has pushed up the A-level entry points to above 26, which has proved a spur for innovative courses that provide access to some students who traditionally would not have considered higher education. Manchester Metropolitan University offers courses that serve both ends of this continuum.

Sport can definitely be a vehicle for carefully controlled access. I recently chaired the examination board of the BSc (Hons) sport science and coaching. The non-traditional entry included 16 players from 18 to 43-year-olds.

The course was purpose-built and geared to the players' availability. Although there were four withdrawals because of club transfers, 12 students graduated with one first, seven 2.1s, three 2.2s and one third. Six of these are progressing to a PGCE and two are considering MSc courses.

The course has been supported by the Footballers' Further Education and Vocational Training Society and they have joined forces with the Professional Cricketers' Association to part-fund the development of a part-time distance-learning course to meet demand from a widely dispersed group of professional sports people. This course will be offered to other sports organisations.

Further expansion of this and other developments are primed and I suspect that they will gather pace as the UK Sports Institute and Healthy Living Centres are established with support from the People's Lottery.

L. Burwitz Head of the department of exercise and sport science Manchester Metropolitan University

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