Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by University College Northampton

  University College Northampton is the only higher education institution offering full and part-time undergraduate and post-graduate qualifications in Northamptonshire, with close to 7,000 full-time students and over 3,000 part-time students.

  As part of the post-1992 university and university college sector. University College Northampton has been funded at much lower levels than the pre 1992 universities and therefore has not built the reserves and property portfolio of those earlier established universities. This has meant that the College has had to look for exceptional value for money in its investments in buildings and programmes and to be particularly open to co-operation with local partners.

  The under investment in the post-1992 universities is illustrated in the relatively poorer sports facilities for students in those institutions and yet those institutions have done most to meet government targets for expanding number of students in higher education.

  As part of its commitment to the community, University College Northampton sports scientists have been working closely with local sports clubs to help their athletes meet their potential. One such collaboration is between the College and Northampton Swimming Club.

  Northampton Swimming Club is one of the largest clubs in the UK. It employs a team of professional coaching staff and the Head Coach is an Olympic medal winner and a former British Swimming Team Captain.

  The club's success is illustrated by its recognition on all four categories of the Amateur Swimming Association's (ASA) new development programme for the 21st century (Swim 21). Northampton is one of very few clubs in England that has been given Swim 21 recognition on all four categories of teaching, skill development, competitive development and performance. With its swimming teaching programme, the competitive programme and its large Masters (25 and over) swimming section, Northampton Swimming Club caters for swimmers from five to 65 and older.

  At present Northampton Swimming Club has to make use of inadequate facilities prone to poor water quality and frequent breakdowns or closure for repairs. Given the link already established with the Club, an opportunity was identified for University College Northampton and Northampton Swimming Club to work together to develop a new swimming facility at the College's Park campus. In addition, it was recognised that it was crucial to involve Northampton Borough Council which operates three swimming pools in the town (two of which are well past their expected life span) and Northamptonshire County Council which is the local education authority. This partnership was strengthened by the involvement of other swimming clubs in the region who all expressed a strong interest in being able to make use of a high quality facility in Northampton to support their competitive training programmes.

  It should be noted that there are a number of LEA schools in the town which have their own swimming pools but these are all over 20 years old and expensive to operate. The LEA would recommend closure of these pools if there were sufficient high-quality other facilities in the town.

  In the USA, much of the development of excellence in swimming is undertaken through the universities with high quality facilities and endowments to support swimmers and coaching staff. These universities are often linked with local clubs and high schools, and swimmers have the benefit of gaining educational qualifications at the same time as aiming for Olympic competition. This approach has also been recognised by the Australian Institute of Sport which was increased its link to educational programmes.

  As well as the educational benefits to the swimmers, the US model has the advantage of providing a much broader based entry to elite level competition, allowing more swimmers to reach their potential and attain Olympic level performance. In addition, the very intense inter-university competitions in the USA provides US swimmers with a competitive edge that gives them an advantage in major international events.

  Guaranteed operational funding over many years, as is available at US universities through their substantial endowments is unlikely to be available in the UK, but the link between major swimming clubs, universities, local authorities and schools could provide the necessary resources by bringing together their individual contributions. This is the basis of the partnership that has been established in Northampton.

  What is therefore needed is a major investment programme in providing high quality swimming facilities at universities. There would have to be a requirement that funding would only be available if the proposal is supported by a major swimming club that already employs a professional coaching staff, the university was prepared to share its facility and provide sports science support, and that the proposal had the support of the local authority and schools. It is necessary to ensure that the annual operating costs are already largely in place through the existing activities of the partners. In addition there would need to be a link to Further Education Colleges to ensure educational opportunities were available to all, and not just those qualified for university courses.

  It is also crucial that the investment is not just into the pre-1992 universities, who may be better placed to provide their own capital investment, as that would limit the degree level educational opportunities to students with high A-level grades.

  This approach would lead to the creation of perhaps 10 to 15 new 50m swimming pools in towns and cities in England, as there are only a limited number of swimming clubs with the resources to provide the necessary coaching support, and some universities may not wish to release sufficient time to support the clubs and schools. Our local swimming club does have the necessary resources and the university is committed to working with the swimming club, the local schools and with its existing further education partners.

  The development of the partnership in Northampton provides an opportunity for University College Northampton to provide a particularly good value-for-money development. The proposal would help the promotion of exercise (lane) swimming for the community (complementing the Borough Council provision and help improve fitness and health in the community), help develop swimming education in co-operation with the LEA, and support competitive swimming in Northampton and the local region. It is intended to start a fund-raising campaign in Spring 2002 but all of the partners recognise that such fund raising is never easy. However, if the Culture, Media and Sport Committee provide support for targeted investment of capital resources to build high quality swimming pools at universities and university colleges, the campaign would be more likely to succeed.

  Adopting the strategy outlined above does need investment in a number of universities (of different types) and should only be offered to universities that have developed a local partnership with major swimming clubs, schools, further education colleges and local authorities, as that partnership will make the investment highly cost effective.

  I hope that this submission will help the Committee in its important work in developing the Sport of Swimming and provide an example of how partnerships between universities, swimming clubs and local authorities could provide investment that would offer exceptional value-for-money.

26 November 2001

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