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Elite athletes and university education in Europe: a review of policy and practice in higher education in the European Union Member States

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journal contribution
posted on 17.07.2014, 10:59 by Dawn A. Aquilina, Ian Henry
This article provides an analysis of the ways in which European Union Member States have sought to address the educational needs of elite young sportspersons. Drawing on fieldwork by 25 research teams led by the authors and undertaken on behalf of the European Commission, it reflects the European Union's increasing concern with protection of the rights of young athletes. Our focus in this paper is on higher education and its adaptation to accommodate the delivery of education to elite athletes. The review of policy descriptions undertaken highlighted three principal categories of policy initiative within the university sector namely the development of academic services, elite sporting provision, and post-athletic career preparation. The findings of the study underlined the variability of response in national systems to the demands placed on elite young sportspersons. This has been more broadly linked to the relationship between general welfare ideologies in nation states, and the positions adopted in relation to education of their young athletes. We characterise these positions in a four-fold typology: (i) a state-centric provision backed by legislation, (ii) the state as a facilitator fostering formal agreements between educational and sporting bodies, (iii) National Federations / Sports Institutes as facilitator / mediator engaging directly in negotiation with educational bodies on behalf of the individual athlete, and (iv) a 'laisser faire' approach where there are no formal structures in place. Crucial to an evaluation of the systems summarised in the typology is an understanding of what these policy systems are seeking to achieve. This may be expressed in terms of a balance between the roles, rights and responsibilities of the main stakeholders including the athlete, the university, the Member State and the European Union.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

Published in

International Journal of Sport Policy






25 - 47


AQUILINA, D. and HENRY, I., 2010. Elite athletes and university education in Europe: a review of policy and practice in higher education in the European Union Member States. International Journal of Sport Policy, 2 (1), pp.25-47.


Routledge (© Taylor & Francis)


AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Publication date



This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in International Journal of Sport Policy [now International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics] on 27/04/2010, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/19406941003634024







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