Finnish Student Sports Federation to clarify its strategy – strives to engage the entire higher education community in increasing students’ level of physical activity

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What if higher education institutions became full members of the Finnish Student Sports Federation? President Emilia Junnila and Secretary General Niko Peltokangas prepared a draft strategy for this major reform.

The Federation’s new strategy, recently sent out for comments, is crystallised in its title “yhdessä kohti liikkuvaa korkeakoulua”, which means that the strategy encourages everyone to work together to increase students’ everyday physical activity. In the years to come, the Federation’s activities will focus on co-operation. During the first phase of the strategy, the Federation wants to strengthen its co-operation with higher education institutions.

The current social climate is particularly suitable for creating the strategy. The public health and economic concerns raised by physical inactivity have been widely understood, and there is strong public support for increasing physical activity. However, at the same time, the Federation is struggling with a decline in membership. The Federation’s work has led to desired results, but a new strategy is still needed to clarify the Federation’s objectives and get the members to support them.

The relationship with higher education institutions has become closer

Over the past years and decades, the collaboration between the Federation and higher education institutions has intensified. In the 21st century, the Federation has been involved in laying the legislative groundwork for sports services offered by higher education institutions, drawing up national recommendations and setting up and developing many sports services. In the last few years, the Federation has promoted physical activity not only via sports services but also as part of everyday activities at higher education institutions: in lectures, on campuses and during schooldays.

During the first decade of the 21st century, a separate membership model called the “cooperation membership” was created for higher education institutions. The Federation’s rules do not expressly specify that cooperation members have to be higher education institutions, but in practice, only academic sports services have applied for this type of membership. The six members accepted as cooperation members offer sports services to students from up to 16 higher education institutions. In addition to the membership model, the Federation coordinates a network of academic sports services open to all higher education institutions. The six current cooperation members receive a discount on the attendance fees for the network’s meetings.

Now the Federation invites the entire higher education community to get involved in developing the Higher Education on the Move programme and students’ opportunities to engage in physical activities. Reducing sedentary behaviour and changing the culture of physical activity is not only the responsibility of students or sports services, but it also needs the support of management as well as teachers and other staff members. That’s why the Federation also wants to have higher education institutions as full members.

Membership benefits both students and higher education institutions

After the reform, the role of student unions would remain the same, but their opportunities for activities would increase. Higher education students are not merely passive targets for campaigns promoting physical activity, but active subjects leading the Federation’s political advocacy work. This would be ensured in the rules for both for the General Assembly and the Board.

The reform would create synergies for both the Federation’s member services and advocacy work. Above all, it would strengthen the co-operation between students and higher education institutions to improve student well-being and students’ ability to study.

Higher education institutions would benefit from the membership in many ways. Their role would continue to be based on networking activities, but they would also contribute to the financing of the Federation’s activities. This, on the other hand, would further improve the quality of tools and development projects. Moreover, higher education institutions could also, for example, train their staff with the Federation’s support and assume responsibility for organising the Finnish Student Championships.

It has also been suggested that higher education institutions assume a clearer role in international student sports activities. If the suggestion is implemented, the Federation will only be represented by students from its member institutions in future international competitions. A Federation membership and, through it, the membership of the Finnish Olympic Committee, can also provide new, unforeseen opportunities for developing students’ ability to study.

Naturally, only everyday activities will show how the strategy translates into action and results. Similarly, the forthcoming General Assembly will show what the new strategy will ultimately look like. The Finnish Student Sports Federation is already a unique organisation that serves both university students and students from universities of applied sciences. The next step could be to unite students and higher education institutions behind the common goal of supporting the Higher Education on the Move programme.

Emilia Junnila and Niko Peltokangas

The Finnish Student Sports Federation will be discussing the new strategy proposal in its General Assembly held in Tampere, Finland, between 8 and 9 November 2023. The documents reviewed in the meeting are currently awaiting comments from member organisations. Federation members will also be asked to comment on the proposed changes to the Federation’s rules. The suggestions are mainly related to the membership of higher education institutions, reducing the difference between the number of votes from different student unions, as well as updating the Federation’s name.

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