Good sports at university

A university in the region is following the example of American colleges in putting sport at the centre of its attempts to attract new students.

A university in the region is following the example of American colleges in putting sport at the centre of its attempts to attract new students.

Northumbria University is investing £500,000 a year in its Team Northumbria project to get the country's best young sportsmen and women on to academic courses.

Sport is a huge part of American academic life, with thousands of spectators watching games and young basketball and American football players being offered generous scholarships to improve university teams.

Northumbria is hoping that its teams can tap into the popularity of sport as well as giving it an advantage over other universities in the increasingly competitive market for students.

The university has vowed not to reproduce the American system of taking top athletes regardless of their academic ability, though it does use foundation degrees - for which students do not need A-levels - as a way of getting students on full courses.

Gareth McKenna, manager of the Team Northumbria project, said: "People still have to have the academic ability to get on courses but we have foundation degrees which can help people in that respect.

"At a time when students are paying £3,000 in fees, we're trying to use sport as a way of making Northumbria more attractive. We can show the facilities we can offer to high performance athletes to persuade them to come here."

Northumbria has a long history of sporting excellence and its former students include England rugby captain Martin Corry, world champion athlete Steve Cram and Commonwealth Games winning swimmer Chris Cook.

It has also given honorary degrees to a number of major sports stars in recent years, including Alan Shearer, Jonny Wilkinson and Jonathan Edwards.

The Team Northumbria project focuses on six key sports - golf, football, rugby, netball, basketball and fencing.

The university's football team now plays in the Arngrove Northern League while its basketball sides feed into the Newcastle Eagles, and it supports the region's only Premier League women's rugby team.

Mr McKenna said: "Recruitment structures extend everywhere now, all round the world. We've got a big international agenda at the university and what we're doing now is using sport to push that agenda, so rather than just go out and do raw selling of courses to students, we're actually bringing sport into that.

"We would maybe run a golf day in the Emirates and use our golf team to go out and support the university in its recruitment drive and maybe create an edge over universities who aren't thinking like that, so there's a business agenda behind it as well, which is good for us.

"I don't deal with the marketing side of it at all but from our point of view, this is an opportunity to have great corporate hospitality at games, bring in potential business partners, and people that help us recruit the students and develop relationships like that."

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