Young players can study to degree level while pursuing their professional careers 

Date posted

10 September 2020


Edinburgh Napier is teaming up with Heart of Midlothian FC and Hibernian FC to support young Academy players on a dual career pathway - studying at the same time as training and playing with their clubs.

Hibs player Josh O'Connor plays keepie uppie in front of Sighthill signage

A new course has been specifically tailored towards players whose training commitments make traditional study options difficult. The programme was developed in response to a request from HMFC Head of Academy, Roger Arnott, who was looking for a way to help support the young players to remain in education while beginning their journey as a professional footballer. 

The University’s innovative part-time programme, for which young players from both Celtic and Rangers have also signed up, combines campus-based workshops and online learning which will develop the academy players’ knowledge of elite sport in a business context.

It will support the players’ integration into the world of professional football, while at the same time developing important academic and business-related skills. This approach is being used to allow the players to understand their environment, find their place within it, and connect more productively with professional sport and the world of employment.

The players will begin their studies this month at a level which offers six modules over two years to Certificate of Higher Education standard, with topics including psychology, the athlete in sport, and football in the digital age.

They can continue studying part-time for a further two to four years to complete a BA in Business & Enterprise in Sport degree, building their management, communication and leadership skills, financial acumen, and ability to identify entrepreneurial opportunities.

Hearts and Hibs academy players at Sighthill

Students enrolling on the new pilot course must be registered as academy level footballers, but do not require Scottish Higher level school qualifications for entry; they will typically have chosen to pursue a professional football career before completing their Higher year at school. Upon successful completion of this award, these players will be at the same or a higher education point as their peers who chose to remain at school. In this way, we hope to remove the disadvantage of leaving school for these players, while fully supporting that choice by using their new environment as a context for their learning.

The course offers the flexibility other study options have lacked for youngsters dedicated to football, and could be the key to a future career in sporting performance, administration, funding or marketing.

The only one of its kind in Scotland, this course is being piloted with a limited number of clubs initially and will be evaluated with input from dual career experts across Europe, with a view to potentially rolling out the model nationally and internationally.

Dr Tom Campbell, Programme Lead, BA Business & Enterprise in Sport, said: “One of the real strengths of the programme lies in the widespread application of theory to a familiar context, allowing students to draw upon their existing sporting experience while generating new knowledge and understanding.  

“This new development will see the same principles applied to the football academy environment, and having the academies' input into the design of the course has been invaluable in creating a state-of-the-art programme.

“I have no doubt that the students will hit the ground running and find the course to be engaging and rewarding.”

News of the course follows the announcement in June of a collaboration between Edinburgh Napier and the Scottish FA to launch the BSc (Hons) Football Coaching, Performance & Development, a four-year undergraduate programme to develop coaching professionals for the modern game.

General view of induction for sports coaching course

Dr Susan Brown, Edinburgh Napier lead for partnerships and enterprise in sport, said: “This programme, developed in collaboration with the clubs, is an important part of Edinburgh Napier’s commitment to supporting the dual career of athletes, not only those who have reached elite level performance, but also those who are committed to pursuing a career in performance sport but are still in the development stage. This approach will take advantage of the environment the players are in.

“There is mounting evidence that a dual career approach is beneficial to performance and not only a useful activity for the future. We believe we can help the clubs support their young players to succeed both on and off the pitch.”

She added: “It is in developing these productive partnerships that we as a University can support clubs, organisations and governing bodies in sport and ensure that our academic programmes are fit for purpose for the students we work with. This programme follows the new collaboration with the Scottish FA, and existing partnerships with Scottish Rugby, Scottish Gymnastics and Cricket Scotland in particular, where the University is a key partner in the development and delivery of education provision at multiple levels.”

Graeme Mathie, Sporting Director at Hibernian FC, said: “It is a fantastic position for us as a Club to be able to deliver not only a high quality football education, but now through this partnership with Edinburgh Napier, a high quality education programme to our players. It is very much aligned to our strategic aim of being a Learner’s Club, and I have no doubt the players will benefit from the programme.

“I would like to place on record my thanks to my colleagues Sean McPartlin and Steve Curnyn who have been in discussions with the university for some time in order to deliver this partnership, and also to confirm a list of learners of various ages and stages from within the Club.” 

Roger Arnott, Heart of Midlothian FC Academy Manager, said: “As a club, we place a strong emphasis on developing our young players both on and off the park.

“This partnership with Edinburgh Napier offers our talented youngsters the chance to enrol in a fantastic higher education programme. We have no doubt that this will stand them in good stead in the years to come.”

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