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Summary Rectors' Forum 2013

During the Rectors’ Forum in Umeå 2013 118 delegates, from 37 countries and five different continents, lived and breathed many aspects of the relationship between universities and communities and their growth through university sport over two days in June. The various speakers delivered with enthusiasm and dynamism and impressed with the diversity and potential to make the addition of one plus one, far more than two when sport, notably university sport, is introduced into the mix. The participants were offered a range of examples of how innovative one can become most particularly through collaboration and partnership when university sport is the catalyst for change, for support and for growth. 

Day one
Baroness Sue Campbell offered us a wide range of examples of the power of sport to affect education attainment , the power of sport to inspire, based understandably on the recent experience within the UK of an Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 viewed through her lead role as Chair of UK Sport, but supported by her many years of service within the Youth Sport Trust, schools and university sport.

The five main themes she discussed:

  • Elite training centres
  • Applied sports science
  • Dual career pathways
  • Research and innovation
  • Coach development

These all offered signals such as:

  • World class athletes require world class support staff and quality facilities – these can be situated successfully within universities, but the challenge is to manage the share between top athlete requirements and the needs of other students and local community.
  • If top sport is to be part of a university’s identity, the director of sport must have a seat at the most senior table in the institution, and sport needs to feature in the university’s forward strategy as a cross cutting means of delivering essential life skills and health to the student experience.
  • Applied sports science is fast becoming the “go to” area of academic study as much as pure sport science.
  • Support of dual career pathways, notably through schemes such as TASS, have proven that universities can offer appropriate supportive environments for talented and podium level athletes.
  • Research and Innovation can be most effective if research and outcomes can be delivered in a short 3-4 year window.
  • Increasingly, it is being recognized that coach development as a degree level qualification is a requirement for long term success.

Martin Doulton’s hugely energetic display of the growth in participation has been possible to engender at Team Monash in Melbourne, underlined the fact that “Sport is about Spirit” and by this we mean community spirit. Team Monash has created a raft of activity events which are attractive to many aspects of the university internal but also its external community, attractive because they are tailored and convenient to community needs, operated in a safe environment and often tied to charitable giving. Sport has been used as a significant retention tool, and patently a means of learning other skills and values amongst a diverse student community

Sture Espwall and Paolo Bouquet demonstrated vividly but in stark contrast what some of the challenges and opportunities are when business and higher education meet. Sture used the 4-helix structured model of how innovation systems should work, and identified the clear fact that one of the challenges for universities when they partner business is their often limited agility, being bound by governance processes which can be too slow for the business need. Nevertheless, it is important to develop partnership from within one’s own reality.

Paolo demonstrated some exciting and innovative approaches to how an already vibrant region of Trentino is and will react to the opportunity which a major sporting event such as the FISU Winter Universiade brings into play. The OC will use sport as an image for growth and development, moving from innovation IN sport to innovation THROUGH sport. The use of crowd-funding related to support of some really bright project ideas generated a few months ago competitively amongst students of Trento University aimed at using Trentino as a laboratory with sport as the driver is but one example of how “thinking outside the box” is taking place.

Our four-part session on collaborative partnerships of our first day revealed to us the stunning range of sports science research being achieved here in Umeå across education, research and elite sport under the leadership of Ted Söderström.  Structurally this was further underpinned by Christer Malm indicating that the key to the services and work of the School of Sport Medicine are the overlapping platforms for education, research and interaction.

Simon Dahl through the Sport region Västerbotten demonstrated in a refreshingly frank manner how sport can be the driver for partnership and growth, and the importance of teamwork across partnership.

Lastly Malin Eggerrtz Forsmark set out the long term international research, development and training centre project focused on women’s sport. She again affirmed that the strategic positioning of partnership relies on one’s start point in reality – in this case a transnational local community – so we moved to an international approach to partnership here, delivering on a range of objectives which notably require university research, sport and business input.

Day Two
The second day brought a morning asserting the range of partnership development and engagement around dual career and elite sport support across Japan, USA, Sweden, Flanders/Belgium and Germany.  Each demonstrated how important it is to understand the historical and cultural influences which have to be taken into account in developing a national model best suited to identifying, servicing and supporting the needs of talent development and elite athletes. Please read more from the final day in Umeå here.

Dr Noguchi set out the effect and impact of economic and demographic change on the Japanese government’s approach to Olympic and Paralympic medal success.  A major shift since year 2000 in the funding model for systematic elite athlete support from commercial business based clubs to a much wider partnership across schools and universities and national sport federations facilitated by the Japanese sports council at the delivery level, and two government departments learning to co-operate above this.

Dr Franklin wowed us with the extensive nature of what the NCAA offers to athletes across their academic and sport career in a model which is founded in a culture nearly unique to the USA education system, but nevertheless worthy of consideration in aspects of athlete development. 

Peter Mattson and Kent Lindahl identified an extremely complex consultative process in Sweden which now sees the Swedish Confederation of Sport, and SAIF driving a new integrated model across club sport, universities and national sport federations which recognizes the need for elite sport universities for implementation by 2015. Although funding is a challenge at this stage, the universities even now are considering the added value they can offer in such a scheme reflecting the value of partnership.

President, Professor Helmut Schmidt outlined the business model adopted at the Technical university of Kaiserslauten over the last 40 years using sport as a key driver. Teacher training including sport as a key component, engagement in elite sport support through sports science institute partnership, partnership with the city notably through the FCK football club driving community identity – all these formed aspects of a university business model founded around sport’s influence on an institution’s profile.

Magnus Hogstrom, as Chief Executive of the Sports Medicine unit illustrated a comprehensive business model offering co-operation across the city of Umeå, the university and its own research base. Key success factors notably in this business model are scientific background, and longevity of medical staff engagement in the field of sports science and sports injury prevention and treatment. 

Oleg Matytsin brought us further examples, tangible and intangible, of the growth engendered in Kazan over a myriad of dimensions and the onward legacy for the community at local, regional and national level, notably the physical sporting infrastructure of the city part of which has been embedded in the care of the local universities, reconstructed transport system, modern housing, the knowledge base that will reside within the educational institutions capable of feeding future major event legacy, a base for FISU too within the International Education Centre, a institute for volunteering, major IT platform development and a centre of incentive tourism.

This is a living, growing, comprehensive model of how a major event can leverage staggering levels of collaborative partnership, based significantly around universities and their onward role in disseminating legacy benefit, along with social, cultural and economic benefits.

Prof Tom Hinch set out to convince us that sport can advance university and community growth through tourism. His conclusions based on wide research and practical application indicate that:

  • Sport is a powerful tourist attraction locally and internationally
  • Sport is connected to place
  • complementary institutional & community goals need to exist to derive social and economic benefits
  • Tourism industry is positioned to help university sport succeed 

Prof Paul Wylleman indicated that within Europe “dual career” will be adopted as policy from 2015 onwards due in much part to the collaborative work carried out across an expert group including Paul and other colleagues from academia, with Guy Taylor from TASS and UK as group chair. So the next few years may see improved opportunities ahead for some universities to engage more strongly in dual career support.

Prof Arne Lundquist completed an insightful day by offering some fascinating examples of the challenges and solutions encountered in international leadership in sport across the political, environmental, doping, match-fixing/betting and gender based issues which have affected sport historically, particularly in the last 30 years – a fitting end to a Forum of exciting exchange of ideas and examples of how universities and communities in the widest sense have played key roles in the advancement and growth of sport across a myriad of dimensions.


The following clips are offered as Food for thought, all telling statements made by Forum speakers:

  • Transformational power of sport as a tool
  • Leadership and advocacy needs to come from the very top in universities if sport is to transform the student experience and the surrounding community
  • Treat students as partners not customers
  • Collaborative partnerships need to acknowledge the reality of the start point for all partners in a project
  • Universities deserve increased recognition in the partnership role they are able to play in dual career support and should pursue this as a benefit

University sport, especially major international or community events, can leverage collaborative partnership across existing business or social interests to support regional growth, but leaders in the education field may need to take the initiative.

For all individual presentations go the the Rectors' Forum website.

Uppdaterad: 23 MAR 2017 16:34

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