Sport and physical activity provision at universities – desirable or essential?

KKP’s work across the University Sector stems back to the strategy for sport it delivered at the point when UMIST and the University of Manchester came together in 2003. In terms of the range of projects and HEIs with which we have worked, it is second to none.

We were involved in the initial and detailed feasibility stages on two of the most recent high-profile investments in major sports facilities at the universities of Birmingham and Warwick. For these we delivered concept development, master planning, capital cost analysis and revenue business planning, as well as leading on consultation with senior staff across both institutions.

During the last 2-3 years we have undertaken a range of projects at universities as diverse as Leeds, Royal Holloway, Aston, Glasgow Caledonian, Aberystwyth, Manchester, Salford and University College Cork as well a review of the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS).  These all build upon other work undertaken across the sector over the last 16 years.

Not all of these focus solely on investment in new sports facilities. They cover a wider range of issues currently affecting the sector such as:

  • The role of sport in the wider student experience.
  • The role of sport reducing student attrition.
  • Outsourcing the management of sports facilities.
  • Impact-led sports directorate programmes.
  • Optimum approaches to engaging the whole student base in physical activity.
  • External funding opportunity.
  • Developing different business models for service delivery.
  • Reflecting UK policy, using sport to engage the wider local community.

The Government is currently reviewing how Higher Education is funded and is considering a reduction in the annual tuition fee to students, which currently stands at £9,250.

However, it is unlikely to make up the shortfall via any change to the funding regime. On this basis, for every £1,000 reduction in student fees, the Government calculates that the sector will lose £1 billion; reducing fees to £6,500 could, thus, mean a loss of nearly £3 billion.

But what might this mean for student sport? Unless a university is already planning to invest in its sports facilities, it may be less easy to include this in its longer-term financial planning. Universities will undoubtedly need to refocus their priorities, reduce staffing and become more streamlined. If parallels with local government occur, we could see moves to take out director of sport roles and subsume sport and physical activity within directorates which manage a wider portfolio of services. It might also lead to more outsourcing of sports facilities management, accompanied by a requirement to generate increased income from the community, students and staff.

Although sport and physical activity is not the primary factor when students are deciding which university to attend, it is an important (arguably vital) contributor to the overall student experience. Not just for those who represent their university in competitive teams but also for those who wish to keep fit, try new sports/activities, meet like-minded people and join new friendship groups. Given the wider pressures on students, being physically active is increasingly recognised as a positive contributor to mental wellbeing and the contribution it makes should not be allowed to be underestimated.

Although universities face major funding challenges, there is an increasing need to understand and do more to deliver on the wider role of sport and physical activity in relation to student experience rather than reacting by cutting or limiting services. Student sport does not need to be a drain on a university’s resources. It can be financially sustainable if facilities are of the right quality, services are geared to meeting the physical activity needs of the whole student body and the delivery mechanisms put into place are the right ones.

For more information or to speak to a team member, please call 0161 764 7040 or email DM@kkp.co.uk


14 May 2020

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *