Dual Career and studies in higher education

12 November 2018
Dual Career and studies in higher education

Dual Career in Finland - Dual Career in Finland TUULI MERIKOSKI

(“PANORAMA EUROPÉEN EUROPEAN OVERVIEWLe double projet sportif et professionnel en Allemagne , p.108-114)

Dual Career and studies in higher education

“The elite sport school system is functional and flexible and all the stakeholders (athletes, parents, teachers, sport federations, NOC etc.) have been quite satisfied with the athletes’ educational possibilities at the upper secondary level.

However, the elite sport school system does not provide the athletes with sufficient educational opportunities alone as more than three quarters of the young talented athletes wish to continue into higher education. To facilitate this transitional stage and to help athletes to continue dual career even in higher education co-operation networks so called Sports Academies were established in cities with large student and sporting populations during the first decade of the 2000’s.

One of the main objectives of the Sports Academies is to help elite athletes to combine studies and training, particularly in higher education. Moreover, together with sport federations and local clubs the sports academies aim at intensifying daily training of athletes, improving training conditions and support services and providing opportunities for professional coaching.

A Sport Academy is not a building or an institute but a local network of different elite sport stakeholders: municipal sectors, educational institutions (upper secondary level, polytechnics and universities), local sports clubs, national sports federations and providers of services related to sport and education. The aim is not to create some big bureaucratic organisations, but to utilise existing structures, resources and knowhow and connect them together.

Sport Academies have written agreements with all the educational institutes within the network. There are no quotas for the entry of athletes to higher education but once admitted thru the official admission system student-athletes have access to extra study counselling, personal tutoring, flexible study arrangements and other support services needed. Every university and polytechnic/university of applied science has a contact person for student-athletes who helps student-athletes with dual career issues.

At present, there are 19 Sports Academies in Finland. Their financial models and basis vary from place to place. Some of the academies were started by means of EU funding, some are financed by municipalities and some are run with own network resources with little if any earmarked support from outside.

The Sports Academies are coordinated at the national level by the Finnish Olympic Committee. Couple of years ago Olympic Committee prepared a strategy for the sports academies as part of the Finnish elite sport training system. Olympic Committee has also evaluated all the sport academies and given a status of “NOC accredited Sport Academy” to ten Sport Academies. Accredited academies which have the most potential in regard to elite sport success receive also financial resources granted from the Ministry of Education.”

Financial support for athletes’ dual career

In addition to the normal government financed benefit for studies (state study grant) student-athletes (or even retired athletes) can apply for a special study grant. These grants are awarded by a Foundation financed by the Ministry of Education. Athletes studying at vocational upper secondary schools, at polytechnics and university are eligible for this grant of €2000. The grant is awarded a maximum of three times to the same individual.

Elite Athletes and Employment

Finnish elite have good educational background: many continue with their studies during sport career and eventually finish a vocational degree or a degree in higher education. The education is useful when seeking for employment. Athletes have also a lot of skills that are highly valuable in labour market which make them attractive for companies and other employers. However, there are many challenges athletes face entering labour market during or after sports career. Firstly, it has turned out to be very difficult to get a part-time job which could be combined with the training. In Finland there are few if any “special positions” for athletes in the public sector (army, police and other public institutions) and there are no special provisions in place for employment of athletes in the public sector. Nor are there any incentives for private companies to hire active or former athletes. Secondly, athletes often have little experience of the process of getting a job: incomplete CV’s, never been to a job interview etc. Thirdly, competitive sports require a huge personal investment and focus. Many athletes finish their sports career at an advanced age that makes the integration to the labour market difficult. Furthermore, some athletes have no degree and those who have often lack work experience from the field they have studied. Many times the only work experience they have is of elite sports which is not “counted” as official work experience.

To help athletes with these challenges Finnish Olympic Committee has been running a program called Athlete Career Program (ACP) with Adecco Finland since 2004. The contract was resigned in 2012 and will continue at least up to 2016. The ACP is a worldwide program running in over 25 countries and coordinated by the IOC. The program is divided into three pillars: education, life skills and employment.

The ACP helps athletes the employment challenges mentioned above. The ACP provides athletes support in searching a fulltime or part time job, writing CV, networking and defining personal skills etc. Career seminars and personal career coaching services are offered to all athletes and coaches that are in the Olympic and Paralympic programs but with cooperation with elite sport schools and Sport Academies, athletes that are not in Olympic level yet are also reached.

The ACP has made the athletes skills visible by translating these skills into the right language. It also helps athletes in other preparations for professional life and employment. The needs of athletes vary from getting little advice to some small detail to very intensive personal career couching. In addition to the ACP some sport federations and player associations have their own programs for helping athletes with employment. But there is still room for improvement. Athletes need more possibilities to connect with employers during the sport career. At the moment a network of “athlete friendly” companies and other employers is being built by the Olympic Committee and Sport Academies in order to create new types of cooperation models for athletes and employers. The network is “opening the doors” to athletes after which it will be up to athlete and company to agree on the terms of cooperation. In addition, overall awareness and knowledge of the services should be raised. Information provision must be done on regular basis because athletes are likely to ‘recognize’ the service only when they have an urgent need for it. The way of delivering the services should also be improved, they should be brought closer to the athletes and the services should be made easier to reach and understand. The services should be “simple concrete and personal”. Moreover there is a need create a systematic way to facilitate the mental process of transition from sport career to post-sport career and to collect the highly valuable “silent knowledge” of the former athletes.

Pension schemes for athletes

The earnings-related pension acts do not cover professional athletes. Pension and accident insurance for athletes is regulated by a separate act (introduced in 11999, reformed in 2009). Any athlete earning more than €9400 per year is allowed to contribute 30% of his or her salary to a tax-free pension fund. The maximum annual contribution to such fund is €50,000. This act was introduced in order to allow athletes to save some money during their active sports career in order to facilitate their life following retirement from sport, for example, to finance studies. Retired athletes can draw on their pension funds 5-10 years after ending their sports careers. Athletes in team disciplines are insured by the sports association which has concluded a contract with the athlete. Athletes in individual disciplines have to arrange pension insurance themselves and it is voluntary. This is an important issue since athletes stay longer and longer in sports and the time to “collect” earnings-related pension will be shorter than normally and the total pension low if the athlete is not taking the voluntary pension insurance.”