THIS YEAR MASSEY WELLINGTON WAS UNABLE to send any teams to Uni Games, despite the games being held in Wellington. This is an accurate reflection of the state of student sport in New Zealand. Unless changes are made soon, students will continue to miss out.
The governing body of tertiary sport in New Zealand is University Sport New Zealand (USNZ). In April of this year a report was commissioned by Sport NZ and USNZ to “identify opportunities for USNZ to enhance its contribution to the tertiary sporting sector, and to the sporting sector in general.”
The environment of sport in universities and other tertiary institutions has changed in recent years. Increasing costs and decreasing funding, Voluntary Student Membership (VSM), as well as a changing student culture are factors affecting participation in tertiary sport.
There have been things going wrong with USNZ since 2008 after Rotorua Games made a considerable loss, says Peter McDonald. The report highlighted areas of concern in USNZ contributing to reduced participation in student sport: Sport NZ will not financially support USNZ, VSM has led to a re-prioritising of reduced available student funds, a high turnover of staff at USNZ, particularly in director positions and a “lack of a value proposition,” as the levies charged by USNZ do not appear to match the perceived value of involvement in tertiary sport.
“Value proposition” is a key phrase here. Organised sport in tertiary institutions must offer value for money, value for time, value for students and value for staff. Since the sizeable financial loss of the 2008 Rotorua Uni Games, staff of USNZ began to resign and the team of five steadily dropped to a team of two.
The recommendations of the report are being thoroughly considered by all at USNZ. A transition group has been formed with representatives from USNZ as well as tertiary institutions. Ben Thorpe is a student association representative on the transition group. Ben says USNZ hopes to have 70-80% of the recommendations in place by November of this year. The 2013 Uni Games will be a good indication of the progress USNZ has made. However, Ben says it could take a couple of years for USNZ to fully re-establish itself.Time and money are scarce resources and sport must offer a valuable return on both. This should be the primary role of USNZ: to make organised sport a worthwhile use of time and money. Achieve this and participation will surely follow.
USNZ must develop a vision and strategy based on coordination with organisations across the sporting sector. USNZ cannot work in isolation: they must work closely with Vice chancellors and recreation managers, but also with other national sporting organisations, according to the Maister report.
Sport at high school seemed so easy and accessible. Competitive and social sports in a multitude of disciplines were readily available and encouraged. No wonder there is a marked drop-off in sport participation from secondary school to tertiary education. USNZ hopes to develop resources and opportunities to encourage secondary school students to continue their athletic pursuits.
The membership structure of USNZ is being reconsidered following the recommendations of the report. Currently, full membership is offered to universities and associate membership to ITPs such as Polytechnics and Institutes of Technology. Universities and other tertiary institutions pay their levies to USNZ based on the number of full time effective students. But as Peter, executive director of USNZ says, the members of USNZ do not matter; what matters are the students.
Cut out the middle man is the strategy. Instead of the student associations being members of USNZ, the institutions themselves (Massey University) should be members of USNZ, says Peter. Yes, funding may be scarce, and, yes, it may take a while to adjust. But VSM may very well encourage greater efficiency and innovation by student groups and clubs.
Students of all tertiary institutions should have the same opportunities to participate in sport and recreation, and be supported by USNZ under the same membership model. Ben Thorpe says the effects of VSM could be reduced through greater governance by the institution rather than the student associations. The tertiary institution would be forced to consult with the students as to how they spend the student services levy. There would be a “student driven focus,” says Ben, and ultimately, the students will benefit.