Effects of the coronavirus pandemic on Finnish higher education sports

In the late spring of 2020, the National Sports Council commissioned a report on the situation in the sports sector. The report completely forgot the Finnish higher education sports services. On the basis of the National Sports Council’s questionnaires, the Finnish Student Sports Federation (OLL) carried out its own survey for those working in higher education sports.

In the survey, the effets of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are noticeable. No higher education sports service provider operated normally during the spring’s restrictions. Up to 45% of their activities came to a complete standstill. The rest of the higher education sports services applied various methods to keep the operations running, at least in part.

In addition to remote work, the operations were adjusted through temporary lay-offs and other time-off arrangements. Up to 10% suspended their operations because of these adjustments. If the tightened COVID-19 restrictions are reintroduced, 15% estimates that this would require making more difficult economic adjustments. One in ten respondents estimates that their economy is in danger of becoming too critical for continued operations.

In the survey, more than half of the respondents anticipate how the current restrictions and the possible tightened restrictions affect higher education sports. The results reveal a strong fear of reduced operating budgets in the future and an increase in students’ user fees. The reasons for this include the losses caused by the cancelled events this spring and autumn.

Another concern is the importance of higher education sports as part of the higher education culture. Although half of the respondents believe that remote sports instruction and exercise videos can reach new students, they feel that physical activity has become less important as part of the higher education culture. The communality of sports services would no longer support social well-being.

A positive effect is that higher education sports has shown its adaptability, for example as a producer of various digital services. However, developing digitalisation requires new skills, training and investments in technical solutions. This requires money that the respondents would like to have as direct support for higher education sport service providers and as higher education institutions' own investments in services, for example by rewarding staff with gift cards to higher education sports services. In addition to financial support, the respondents hope that higher education communities communicate on the safety of higher education sports services in a good spirit of cooperation.

The issue of securing funding was raised in the open responses. Although services have been curtailed for safety reasons and there has been a drop in sports fee revenues, there must be no cuts in current funding. Some university sports services will even need additional support to ensure that services remain high quality and attractive in the new situation. The development of new types of service will also require resources and additional expertise, which must lead to investments in education.

In addition to university funding in general, respondents felt that the state could financially support university sports services in the same manner as other sports services have already been assisted. Grants should take account both of financial losses and the need to develop new forms of service.

Read more in the overview of the Finnish Student Sports Federation survey, which can be downloaded as a PDF presentation in Finnish here.

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