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Leisure Management - Build it & they will come

University sport

From Sports Management Jul Aug 2017 issue 132
Build it & they will come

Sports facilities are becoming a differentiator for universities battling to attract students. Tom Walker looks at some of the developments happening in higher education

Tom Walker, Leisure Media
Oxford University’s rugby team. Sports facilities are a draw for athletic students © Robert Anic/PIXSELL/Pixsell/PA Images
University of Nottingham invested £40 million in its new David Ross sports centre, to encourage people of all abilities to get involved in sport
Prince Harry watches trials for the 2017 Invictus Games at the University of Bath © Chris Jackson/PA Wire/PA Images
Birmingham’s only 50m swimming pool was built by the city’s university

Universities are enjoying a building spree. Up and down the UK, millions of pounds are being spent on facilities – including sports centres and health clubs.

This activity has stemmed from the government’s decision to allow universities to charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year – a decision that came into effect in 2012. Since then, higher education has become a competitive market, with universities vying for students who are, in turn, looking for a return on their investment.

“For the first time ever, student recruitment is no longer under government control, creating a competitive market,” says Sue Holmes, director of estates and facilities at Oxford Brookes University.

A report by the Association of University Directors of Estate (AUDE) shows the dramatic effect the tuition fee decision has had. Within two years of the tuition fee hike, annual capital expenditure by British universities had jumped to £2.5bn – an unprecedented record figure.

George Griffith, head of university consulting and associate director at property giant CBRE, says that the competition for students has also been made tougher by a shift in population. “The demographic of our nation is changing, with the number of 18-year-olds in decline. This poses a challenge for universities as the need to attract the best students and staff is heightened.

“It means UK university estates, in the short term at least, will need to work even harder to ensure they have first-class, up-to-date facilities and services on offer.”

Sports and fitness facilities are proving to be a major focus of investment and a powerful differentiator. One of the first major facilities to open as part of this new wave was the University of Cambridge Sports Centre, which opened in August 2013. Designed by Arup Associates, the £16m centre occupies a prominent position on campus.

Facilities include a multi-purpose sports hall with 16 court options; a space for martial arts, fitness classes and dance; a health club with fitness suite and conditioning rooms, as well as lecture space and a café.

At Birmingham University, a new £55m sports centre now houses the city’s only 50m swimming pool. In Exeter, the city’s university recently invested £10m on new facilities at its Penryn campus – of which £4m was spent on a new multi-use sports centre.

The University of Bath has attracted many of the region’s elite athletes with its new £30m Sports Training Village and a high performance gym.

University of Nottingham, meanwhile, recently opened its £40m David Ross sports centre, forming a key element of the university’s ‘Vision for Sport’ strategy.

“The centre is part of our ambition to create an outstanding, inspirational and accessible sports infrastructure for students, staff and the wider community,” says Dan Tilley, director of sport at the university. “The idea is to encourage people of all abilities to get involved in sport and activity, and allow them to rub shoulders with and train alongside some of the country’s leading athletes.”

There is little sign that the trend is slowing down. Universities in London are busy securing prime building plots, and the rush to secure land isn’t limited to the capital. In Wales, Aberystwyth University has announced an ambitious £100m building programme that includes a new seafront college. Meanwhile, in Cambridge, an entirely new suburb could be created two miles north-west of the city, if the university’s £1bn plans – which include impressive sports facilities – are realised.

Sporting universities
Sports Management rounds up some of the sports centre developments currently in the pipeline for universities
1. University of Essex

Work is underway to build brand new sports facilities at the University of Essex campus in Colchester. At the centre of the plans is a new indoor sports centre, housing 12 badminton courts, three full-size basketball courts, three netball courts and five volleyball courts. Additional amenities will include sports therapy facilities, classrooms and a rehabilitation area.

The University of Essex has three focus sports: volleyball, basketball and rugby sevens
2. University of Hull

The University of Hull has been granted planning permission for a new sports centre, which will be open to both students and the community. The centre is part of a £16m investment in sporting facilities, which includes the creation of a Football Hub, funded in part with a £500,000 donation from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund.

The sports centre will house a 12-court sports facility, including international-standard netball courts and bleacher-style seating for 700 spectators. The aim is to make the university the regional hub for netball. The versatile space will be used for a multitude of sports, including basketball, badminton, futsal and volleyball. The development is part of a £200m investment in infrastructure and buildings already underway across the university.


The University of Hull’s sports centre currently receives around 2,000 visits per week
3. University of Oxford

The University of Oxford is planning to redevelop its Iffley Road Sports Complex – home to the running track where Sir Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in 1954. The first phase of the multi-million-pound development will be the building of a £8.5m sports centre – which will be named after Olympic rower and scholar Dr Acer Nethercott.

The Acer Nethercott Sports Hall will house the UK’s first “light smart floor” – housing technology which will allow users to change LED floor markings at the touch of a button. The centre will be the first building to be completed in the redevelopment of the Iffley Road site.


Oxford athletes train here for Varsity matches against arch-rival University of Cambridge

© S&G/S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport
Roger Bannister was the first person to break the four-minute mile at the University of Oxford in 1954
4. University of Portsmouth

The University of Portsmouth has revealed an ambitious, multi-million-pound plan to transform and improve the city centre. At the heart of its ‘The Estates Masterplan’ is a new student accommodation zone and sports centre, featuring an eight-court sports hall, an eight-lane swimming pool and a health club with a 150-station gym floor and group exercise studios. The centre will be available to students, staff and the local community – and forms the core of a city-wide plan to get people more physically active.

© Jacob Lund/shutterstock

The eight-lane swimming pool will be open to the public
5. Warwick University

Warwick University has confirmed plans to build a multi-million-pound sports hub on land off Leighfield Road on the main university campus. Designed by David Morley Architects, the facility – currently in planning – is set to offer a sports hall, flexible swimming pool, fitness suites, climbing and bouldering walls, squash courts, flexible studio spaces, a café and outdoor 3G sports pitches and netball courts. The hub is at the centre of the university’s plans to become the “most physically active campus community in the UK by 2020”.

Warwick aims to be the most active campus in the UK by 2020

Originally published in Sports Management magazine Jul Aug 2017 issue 132
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