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Student Athlete Participation Policy 2020/21

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INTRODUCTION

Sport Sheffield have been asked to develop some proposals around academic flexibility for students engaging in sport. This has been done in collaboration with the Students’ Union Sports Officer and aims to provide colleagues with a proposed way forward to reinforce the University of Sheffield’s commitment to supporting student health and wellbeing through sport. For clarity, this proposal is focussed specifically on Elite Student Athletes and those representing the University through regular Wednesday afternoon competition. We do recognise a wider discussion is required around a broader ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ agenda and would be happy to be involved in developing this further. 

This policy also strives to remove any unnecessary barriers preventing participation, creating an environment where student athletes feel supported by their institution without fear of falling behind or jeopardising their academic progress. 

While we expect faculties to recognise talented students and support them by making reasonable adjustments; this isn't always possible in professionally regulated courses. For example, courses that have a substantive component of work placement. However, we would expect dialogue to be started as early as possible between students and staff in these scenarios to establish expectations and realistic possibilities for both parties.

 

BACKGROUND

The University of Sheffield’s Timetabling Policy (2011) outlines that: 

“Wednesday afternoons shall normally be kept free from undergraduate teaching in order to accommodate other activities such as students’ sports and societies…”

Following a student mental health forum in March 2019 it has become clear that in some cases, students are not experiencing the flexibility assumed around keeping Wednesday afternoon clear for extra curricular activities. This is consistent with feedback from the Union Sports Officer and Sport’s committees who have highlighted this is creating undue stress and anxiety around having to choose between their academic and sporting commitments. Research conducted by the Students’ Union demonstrates that 25% of UG students and 42% of PGT students, have scheduled activity on a Wednesday afternoon during the 2019/2020 academic year.

The National Union for Students passed policy at their National Conference in 2016 to support students’ unions develop ‘Keep Wednesday Afternoons Free (KWAF) together with BUCS and Student Minds, creating strong debate and championing the cause. This campaign has been adopted by Sheffield Officer’s and continues to be a matter of importance that we hope to address through this piece of work.

It is well documented that sport and physical activity can have a “profound and positive effect on individuals, communities and wider society” Sport England (2018) and this is no different in a University setting. 

Research conducted by UK Active in collaboration with British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) and Scottish Student Sport (SSS) suggests students engaging with Sport and Physical Activity during their time at University are “more likely to have improved personal wellbeing, greater confidence around their employability prospects, have higher grade expectations and be less likely to experience social isolation.” (British Active Students Survey 2018).

In addition to this, The University of Sheffield Elite Sports Performance Scheme continues to grow each year and is attracting record numbers of interest and applications since its inception in 2010. Student Athletes are beginning to choose Sheffield because of our partnerships with GB elite squads such as GB Wheelchair Basketball and GB Swimming through our High-Performance Centre, to name just two. 

Aside from our elite provision, Sport Sheffield continues to experience high volumes of enquiries throughout the year at various Open Days regarding its’ sporting ‘offer’, with prospective students and their parents keen to understand The University’s commitment to its’ student athletes. It is important we can be confident that once students have chosen Sheffield, that they arrive, and this commitment can be kept. 

Many other Universities have well established arrangements for academic flexibility and commitments to ‘KWAF’ which we hope to replicate at Sheffield.

 

University Statement

Elite Athletes

The University of Sheffield is committed to supporting its students to achieve excellence both academically and through their chosen sport. The University recognises that for its high performing student athletes (in some cases dual career students) to achieve their sporting goals and commitments, adjustments to an individual student’s pattern of study or assessment may be required at some stage in their student journey. 

The University of Sheffield expects that all students supported by this policy will maintain high levels of both academic and sports performance and will serve as ambassadors for the University.

For the purpose of this policy, Elite Athletes are students who obtain a place via an application process to The University of Sheffield’s Elite Sports Performance Scheme. The ESPS aims “To provide support for, and help develop, high performance athletes studying at the University of Sheffield”. Student’s must be performing at a GB or equivalent level and or professional or semi professional standard. 

Elite Athlete Support is provided in a number of ways and can range from a financial bursary and accommodation packages, as well as a number of in kind benefits such as strength and conditioning, free access to the University fitness facilities, Physiotherapy support, lifestyle mentoring and academic flexibility.

In order to deliver this, Sport Sheffield works collaboratively with ACS, Student Finance and DARE who support various components of the overall package of support.  

Recognised ESPS Athletes should be eligible for consideration for flexible arrangements for learning and assessment which could take the form of (but not limited to) the following:

  • Authorised absence
  • Revised deadlines
  • Alternative assessment (s) & dates
  • Special considerations e.g. course visits, placements and locations of clinics or labs).

Sport Sheffield, by way of the Performance Sport Development Officer, will contact departments directly, to notify them of any student who becomes part of the ESPS athlete scheme. This is to ensure communication is started early and that departments are given notice of any circumstances that may require academic flexibility. Sport Sheffield and the Sports Officer agree and expect students to take a proactive and timely approach to managing their academic requirements alongside their training and competition plans.  Personal responsibility must be taken, and arrangements must be made to meet timescales agreed by both parties.

We ask that all departments include this policy within their website or handbook to ensure students and staff are aware of the Policy and its content.

In the unlikely event that a student is unhappy about the dialogue with their department about flexibility they can appeal via the academic appeals process.

 

University approved representation (Wednesday afternoon competition)

The University of Sheffield is committed to supporting its students to achieve excellence both academically and through their chosen sport. We recognise the wide range of benefits resulting from participation and engagement in sport and physical activity to individuals, teams and communities and want to encourage our students to lead balanced and healthy lifestyles during their time with us.

We recognise and intend to observe the general principle of ‘Keeping Wednesday Afternoon Free’ for University approved, inter-university competition during this time, and will endeavour to keep undue restrictions to a minimum e.g. avoid timetabling compulsory classes after 1 pm (this includes, but not limited to, seminars, Labs, compulsory lectures), consider alternative classes and seminar times, sharing learning resources online etc. 

For the purposes of this policy ‘University approved inter-university competition’ relates to all Wednesday afternoon entries in the National BUCS league and cup programme where teams and individuals are representing The University of Sheffield. The cost for the University to be affiliated to the BUCS league amounts to over £18,500 every year with a further £7,500 in Team Entry Fees. The trend shows that this will increase 3% year upon year. 

If this general principle is observed, most potential conflicts will be managed. However, in cases where agreement cannot be sought or changes be made, students and academic staff need to engage and commit to positive, solution focussed discussion. 

There may be some exceptional circumstances where cup or league fixtures take place in Scotland, the South coast or in Wales, in which case, students are required to travel long distances & in some cases overnight. However, we would expect this information is shared and discussed with a department lead and a solution sought. 

Sport Sheffield and the Sports Officer agree and expect students to take a proactive and timely approach to managing their academic requirements alongside representing the University in sport. Personal responsibility must be taken, and arrangements must be made to meet timescales agreed by both parties. 

We ask that all departments include this policy within their website or handbook to ensure students and staff are aware of the Policy and its content.

In the unlikely event that a student is unhappy about the dialogue with their department about flexibility they can appeal via the academic appeals process.

 

Opportunities and Challenges

Opportunities:

  • To be responsive to the needs and barriers some students are currently facing
  • To achieve a greater and more holistic approach to student support, positive cross over between academic departments and professional services.
  • Enhance awareness and broader opportunities for academic departments with elite athletes and understand their value to the department and wider university. 

Challenges:

  • Reaching the right people, knowing who is best to contact and most informed to steer.
  • The bigger picture for Wellbeing Wednesdays. 
  • Managing student expectations and academic requirements
  • Managing potential tension between academic departments and sport students/provision.
  • Potential abuse of the system 

 

Approved by Senate December 2020