The sports award recognises excellence in academia and on the field

Exeter UK’s top university for sport and best in the South West

The University of Exeter has retained its top ten place in the Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide, and has been named Sports University of the Year 2015-2016.

The prestigious rankings, which mean Exeter retains its position as best in the South West,  take into account a wide range of factors, including student satisfaction and research excellence. The Sports award recognises performance on the field, education and research. It acknowledges Exeter as the best in the country in academic and athletic achievement across a wide range of sports. It takes into account the University’s outstanding support for athletes, very high student satisfaction in sport-related programmes and world-leading research which enhances athletic performance at all levels.

The accolade comes after the University invested more than £20 million in its sporting estate over the past decade, including a £9 million boost to the Sports Park on the Streatham Campus. Part of this was the new state-of-the-art Russell Seal Fitness Centre, and a further £4.6 million is now being spent to upgrade facilities on other campuses, including an all-new sports facility for the Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter, said: “Exeter is going from strength to strength in all areas of our activity. Our positioning and our award are both outstanding achievements, which recognise the tremendous talent and effort of a wide range of staff and students on the sports field, in the lecture theatre and in the laboratory.

“Sport is integral to our ethos, and we’re incredibly proud of our successes. We put our students first, and we do all we can to support them in their education and their sporting endeavours. The majority of our students play sport regularly, and many of our students and graduates have represented their country at the highest levels of competition.

“Our sport-related research has been ranked world-leading and benefits athletes at all levels across the globe. I’d like to congratulate and thank everyone who has contributed to our ranking and this award – it really is a victory for all of us to celebrate.”

The University attracts elite student athletes and has 50 sports clubs, supporting students at all levels of competition. The University is the top ranked institution nationally for Rugby, Golf and Men’s Hockey. In the British Universities and College (BUCS) sport rankings, the University sits 3rd for league and cup competition across all sports for the 14/15 season. In 2014/15, 28 athletes secured international representation in their sport.

The University strives to nurture talent, and offers a range of tailored scholarships to more than 30 athletes each year. Two thirds of the student population plays sport, and the Athletic Union at Exeter boasts 7,200 members.

Alison Davidson, Director of Sport at the University of Exeter, said of the sports award: “This fantastic news recognises the success of our ethos of working alongside academically gifted students to help them achieve their full potential as student athletes. We aim to engage, empower and encourage staff and students to be physically active. From support for our elite performers to community outreach, we strive to create a culture that means people want to be involved. Our strengths in the three strands of performance, education and research mean everyone benefits from the very best in knowledge, support and innovation in sport.”

In the recent Research Excellence Framework 2014, which ranked all UK research, Sport and Health Sciences at University of Exeter were ranked 3rd out of 51 Universities for research quality and intensity, with 89 per cent of research rated as world-leading (4*) or internationally excellent (3.

Research projects span a wide range of subjects, and include the discovery that nitrate in beetroot juice can enhance performance, helping athletes exercise for up to 16% longer. Research on gaze control and attentional focus has benefitted surgeons, athletes, pilots and the military. Experts’ eye movement patterns are used to design training programmes that allow more rapid learning of skills from laparoscopy to marksmanship; skills that then prove to be more resilient under pressure. Our researchers have worked with the Exeter Chiefs rugby team, Exeter City FC Youth Academy  and elite endurance athletes including Jo Pavey and Paula Radcliffe to develop physiological testing protocols to generate data that could be used to optimise their training. Further research themes include investigating the benefits of physical activity through the lifespan, for instance the improvements in blood glucose control that are achieved by interspersing very brief period of activity in the working day; and showing that adolescents are less likely to be insulin resistant, a condition that increases the risk of diabetes, if they exercise regularly.

Professor Craig Williams, Director of Research in Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter, said: “Our research is world-leading for quality and has a demonstrable impact on both elite athletes and amateurs. Research is embedded in our teaching programmes from day one, so students have access to excellent facilities and expertise across all areas of their academic and sporting life. We’re proud that it’s resulted in extremely high levels of student satisfaction.”

Jo Pavey, who works with University researchers and is an Honorary Graduate, said: “At the elite level of sport, keeping abreast of the latest research really does boost performance. The University of Exeter is world leading in this area with research that’s used in the real world and has real impact for athletes like me. Physiological testing to shape and fine tune my training has really helped me in my performance. At the same time the University is helping nurture the next generation of sporting excellence. This award is well deserved and I’m delighted for Exeter.”

The University offers three programmes which relate to sport education: Exercise and Sport Sciences, Psychology with Sport and Exercise Science and Human Biosciences. In 2016 the University of Exeter Medical School and Sport and Health Sciences will launch a new programme in Sport and Exercise Medical Sciences. In the National Student Survey, Sport and Health Sciences ranked 2nd in the sector with 99 per cent overall student satisfaction. The Discipline also ranked in the top 10 in five out of seven categories, achieving a sector leading 91 per cent for teaching quality and 93 per cent for student experience.

Date: 18 September 2015