Genesis of Masters in Sport Directorship came from VSI says Prof. Julia Clarke

When Steve Round stepped into his new role as Aston Villa’s technical director, amid plaudits from the Championship club’s owner, Dr Tony Xia, and chief executive Keith Wyness, the latter’s comments certainly caught the ear of Manchester Met professor, Julia Clarke.

As Pro-Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Business and Law, she has ultimate academic responsibility for the Sport Directorship programme which the university runs with Visionary Sports Investment (VSI). So Prof Clarke was delighted to hear Wyness say:

“The technical director position is vital for the future of Aston Villa, and Steve’s recent studies for a Masters qualification showed his dedication and desire to develop this role.”

“It was an affirmation of everything we are trying to achieve with the Sport Directorship course,” she says. “Steve hadn’t been in education for such a long time, it wasn’t even on his radar, but we do pride ourselves on being inclusive.

“The course is academically-grounded, which could be quite daunting for people who have spent years in professional sport, some at very senior level, but I think the key has been to simply treat them all as we would any students.

“We often hear new arrivals say their initial units are as ‘scary’ as going out on to the pitch in-front of thousands of fans when they began their careers, but they soon settle in.

“At Manchester Met, we are careful to create a very supportive environment for all students, and you can see how well the Sport Directorship newcomers bond with each other, and how their respect swiftly builds for the lecturers.”

Steve Round was on the first cohort to take the course, which was 20-strong, but as demand has risen sharply, the current cohort has reached 30.

“We are maxed out at the moment in terms of resources,” admits Prof Clarke. “The programme was so innovative that no-one knew how it would be received, but we already have a waiting list for 2017.

”The genesis for this course came from VSI, it was their vision for how future sporting director roles would work, and although the tuition is delivered by Manchester Met lecturers, neither of us could have done this without the other.

“We are now actively looking for new lecturers to work on this course, up to professor level. As always, good people are in demand, and there isn’t a never-ending pipeline of potential recruits out there, but we’re confident the resources will be in place for the arrival of the 2017 cohort.

”In January, for example, we took on Professor Mark James, as Director of Research at our Law school, who is one of the country’s leading specialists in sports law.”

The Manchester Met staff who deliver the programme are specialists in different disciplines; including sports governance, sports science, elite leadership and management, but they’re not all sports enthusiasts.

“We’ve got a great mix. The programme director is Dr Sara Ward, who is a big Everton fan, whereas Stephanie Sturges, who is a unit leader, is really into ballroom dancing,” says Prof Clarke.

The course is only into its third year, but the Manchester Met team is clearly delighted by its progress.

“By the nature of how universities are set up, they are not hugely risk-taking, but we are very outward-facing here. We do like to try things, and in different sectors too,” says Prof Clarke.

“So much of a successful programme is about interaction between students and lecturers, and by all criteria, this course has already surpassed all our expectations.”

this article appeared in FC Business magazine October 2016