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A recent audit confirms: The School of Business is a top athlete-friendly higher education institution

The School of Business systematically promotes the prerequisites of top athletes studying at the university to complete their studies alongside their sports career
Urhea-opiskelijoita ja -kumppaneita
Urhea students ja partners in the auditing meeting at the School of Business in February 2023. Photo: Aalto University/Annemari Rautio

During 2022–2023, the Finnish Olympic Committee has created a Finnish audit model for top athlete-friendly higher education institutions (HEIs). Two pilot audits have been carried out to test the top athlete-friendly HEIs quality work's quality factors, evaluation model, and the appropriateness and functionality of the audit as a whole. The audit of the Aalto University School of Business was the second piloting of the audit model. The first pilot was carried out at Kajaani University of Applied Sciences. 

The aim of the audit is to identify and recognise those higher education institutions that systematically promote, both structurally and attitudinally, the prerequisites of top and professional athletes studying at higher education institutions to complete their studies, in a manner that supports their athletic development. Aalto University currently has more than 150 students, who are members of the Metropolitan Sports Academy Urhea. 

Implementation of the audit

Negotiations between Aalto University, Urhea and the Olympic Committee on the participation of Aalto University in the Top Athlete-Friendly Higher Education Institution pilot audit took place in early summer 2022. In the autumn of the same year, a decision was made on the implementation of the pilot audit and its limitation to the School of Business.

At the School of Business, responsible for the audit process was a team consisting of Dean Timo Korkeamäki, Development Manager Johanna Palmroos (School of Business), Senior Advisor Kirsi Eulenberger-Karvetti (Aalto University Leadership Support Services), Designer, Urhea Contact Person Elli Hämäläinen and Planning Designer Hilkka Honkanen (both from the School of Business Learning Services), and Professor Emeritus Timo Saarinen (School of Business). 

The School of Business' self-evaluation was carried out at the turn of the year 2022–2023. In addition to the above-mentioned responsibility group, students, teachers, experts, alumni of the school, as well as representatives of KY (Aalto University School of Business Degree Students association), the Metropolitan Sports Academy Urhea, and UniSport participated in the self-evaluation. The audit team of the School of Business consisted of Anna Kirjavainen (Chair), Mika Korpela (Sport Academy of Turku Region), Aku Nikander (University of Jyväskylä), Hanna-Maari Päkk (Jyväskylä Sports Academy) and Laura Tast (Project Manager, Finnish Olympic Committee). The team visited the School of Business in February 2023 and submitted the audit report to the School of Business in April 2023.

Six assessment areas

Top athlete-friendly higher education institutions are assessed using a quality model consisting of six entities: study support for athletes, building flexible study paths, recognition of competence acquired from sports as part of studies, and study modules tailored to athletes, transition phase measures, communication and cooperation with the sports academy and the Olympic Committee, as well as sport support functions. The task of the audit is to assess and examine the implementation of the quality factors related to these, as part of the existing processes, operating methods and practices of education and competence development in the higher education institution. The assessment uses the levels excellent, good, and insufficient.

The steering group of the Top Athlete-Friendly Higher Education Institution of the Finnish Olympic Committee has found that the activities of the School of Business, as a top athlete-friendly higher education institution, are at a good level. Support for studies for athletes was considered excellent throughout, and several other evaluation areas were also considered excellent. According to the audit report, good level is achieved when the higher education institution demonstrates that the quality factors are implemented as part of the higher education institution's development processes, operating methods, and practices. On level excellent, the higher education institution shows impressive, long-term, and renewing development activities in dual career work.

Key strengths and development targets

The audit identified several strengths and a few development targets. One of the key strengths mentioned was the commitment of the management of the School of Business to promoting dual career activities, together with the Finnish Olympic Committee and Urhea, which enables continuous development and impact of the activities. According to the audit team, the Special Achievements selection group, for example, as one way to apply to study at the School of Business, is a great example of considering sport achievements as a factor that accumulates competence capital and promotes performance in higher education studies. 

The versatile possibilities offered by the School of Business to organise studies flexibly, support the consideration of sports requirements. The School of Business also has a strong will to develop studies that support the implementation of a dual career, independent of time and place. Similarly, the self-assessment process of the top athlete-friendly higher education institution has, in a short time, increased awareness of a dual career and its objectives. Elli Hämäläinen, the contact person for Urhea at the School of Business, received praise for their active work to develop top athlete-friendly activities at the School of Business and the entire Aalto University.

Sami Itani Urhean auditointitapaamisessa 2023
Sami Itani, Professor of Practice at the Department of Management Studies of the School of Business and Head of Urhea at Aalto. Photo: Urhea/Sini Forsblom

The audit team highlighted the same development targets that the School of Business had identified in its self-assessment. Reaching competitive athletes at the beginning of their higher education studies would enable the efficient use of support services for dual careers. In this context, it is also important to increase the dual career knowledge of the higher education institution teaching staff and of those working in Learning Services. Peer support and mentoring services, on the other hand, would help student athletes in planning their dual career and transitioning to working life. The annual joint operational planning with Urhea, proposed by the audit team, will support the promotion of several joint objectives, and further strengthen the long-term cooperation.

Some of the development targets identified in the audit process have already been addressed. For example, the aalto.fi website designed for competitive athletes has been updated, to increase awareness of support services and cooperation with Urhea and to reach students right at the beginning of their studies. The development work will continue on the basis of the School of Business' own observations and the recommendations of the audit team, together with Professor of Practice Sami Itani and Urhea. 

‘I want to thank everyone involved in the audit process for their excellent cooperation. The School of Business wants to support the transition after the sports career, by enabling higher education studies already during the sports career. We are on the right development path in this work and already at a good pace. Our goal is to bring the quality factors of our operations as a top athlete-friendly higher education institution to an excellent level across the board,’ says Dean Timo Korkeamäki.

Football player Tim Väyrynen and basketball player Helmi Tulonen are among Aalto University’s URHEA students

‘Aalto University has supported us in combining professional sports and studies in accordance with the principles of Urhea.’

Read about Urhea students experiences
Football field / Jalkapallokenttä. Kuva: Aleksi Poutanen
Student guide illustration, supporting your studies

Combining an athletic career with studying at Aalto

Aalto University is committed to helping students belonging to the Metropolitan Area Sports Academy Urhea combine studies with sports and to considering the particular needs and challenges of a career in competitive sports.

Below you will find additional information on Aalto University’s support for student-athletes. The support is contingent upon the student’s Urhea membership. If you have been a member of Urhea before beginning your studies at Aalto, you must notify Urhea of your change of study place to have Aalto University notified of your membership. Please contact Urhea to change your details or check with the Urhea contact person of your Aalto school whether your name is already on the university’s list of Urhea members. See the bottom of the page for contact details.

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