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Study or sports career? The answer is both!

Olympic medalists Sara Slott Petersen and Anne-Marie Rindom are not just elite athletes – they are also students at Aarhus University. And the experiences of such elite athletes can also benefit student entrepreneurs. But it takes flexibility on the part of their degree programmes.

2016.10.05 | Berit Eika

[Translate to English:] Maja Møller Alm er tandlægestuderende på Aarhus Universitet og har flere VM-medaljer i orienteringsløb bag sig. Foto: Team Danmark.

Completing a university degree while pursuing a career as an elite athlete might sound like an impossible obstacle race. But at Aarhus University, we have living proof that you can do both!

Today, we are celebrating 17 talented students who have qualified to the Olympic Games or the Paralympic Games, or who have won world championship or European championship medals in their sport. They are part of a group of 240 elite athletes who are students at Aarhus University.

We are not just celebrating their athletic performance. We are also celebrating their ability to think long-term and persevere with their educations while they are at the top of their athletic careers.

For a number of years, there has been political focus on preventing the development of an athletic underclass. But visions are one thing – putting them into practice takes something else entirely.

The dilemma facing elite athletes is easy to see – between competitions and training camps on the one side and a demanding full-time degree programme on the other. Aarhus University’s formalised ‘Dual Career’ programme helps elite athletes combine their two career paths.

The effort will pays off in the long run

But why invest in such a narrow group of students?

Because it makes sense – for the individual students, for the university and for society.

It is a fact of life that all elite athletes loose to age sooner or later. So having an education to fall back on is crucial! Reports of suicide, substance abuse, mental illness after ending a career in sport are not uncommon.

At the same time, elite athletes have character traits that also benefit them academically: discipline, willpower and the ability to create structure. And in fact, our elite athlete students are generally doing incredibly well. They get good marks, make good progress through their programmes, and have low drop-out rates.

It is also a question of rewarding young people who sacrifice so much time to give the nation something to unite behind and be proud of.  This is why we as a university and as a society have an obligation to help these young people succeed in their dual careers – without compromising on academic standards. 

In practice, Aarhus University offers these students personal counselling and support, a larger degree of flexibility in planning compulsory courses, Skype transmission of classes and a study assistant who helps with notes, as well as many other large and small initiatives. This is not a free pass to an academic degree, and academic standards are not compromised in any way. Our sole task is to create a flexible study environment with room for both sport and education.

Dual Career also works for entrepreneurs

The challenge of a dual career is not confined to the world of sport. Getting start-up activities to harmonise with a demanding degree programme can be just as challenging for entrepreneurs.

And so the support offered to elite athletes will also be extended to students who are working to realise a smart business concept. Aarhus University will give this group the same Dual Career counselling and support. Top athletes and entrepreneurs are highly talented individuals with ambitions who we must not risk losing by thwarting them with an inflexible system.

The point is not that everyone should have a university degree. The point is that the universities – and other educational institutions – can do a lot to support and encourage students who can and want to take a degree while simultaneously pursuing another career. This investment will pay off handsomely in the form of the benefit to society of highly educated manpower with strong personal competencies.

FACTS about today's event

On Monday 3 October, Aarhus University will celebrate 17 elite athletes for their athletic performance and their ability to combine a career in sport with their studies.

The event will take place at the Museum of Ancient Art, where Aarhus University students who participated in the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be celebrated, along with medalists from European and world championship.

There were seven AU athletes at the Olympics and 1 at the Paralympics in Rio in 2016. In recent years, athletes from Aarhus University have won 2 Olympic medals, 12 world championship medals and 9 European championship medals.

FACTS about AU Elitesport and Dual Career

  • Since 2011, Aarhus has developed expertise in counselling and supporting students who are pursuing in two different career paths simultaneously (‘dual career’ students) through the AU Elitesport programme.
  • To become part of AU Elitesport, the student must spend a significant proportion of his or her time on athletics and participate in competitions at the highest level.
  • Elite athletes at Aarhus University are involved in over 30 different sports and are enrolled in almost 50 different degree programmes across all four faculties.
  • In practice, elite athletes are offered personal counselling on dual careers, assistance in creating flexibility in relation to compulsory courses, a study assistant who helps with notes as well as video and audio recordings or Skype transmission of classes and study group activities.
  • In general, elite athlete students do very well. They get good marks, make good progress through their programmes, and have low drop-out rates.
  • On the basis of the experience gained through AU Elitesport, over the past year, Aarhus University has been trialling the same counselling and support service for students who are involved in starting their own businesses. The results have been so good that the university has decided to make the Dual Career programme for student entrepreneurs at AU.
  • Since 2011, AU Elitesport has been funded by Aarhus University while located at the for-profit association Active Institute. In future, these activities will be carried out by the university’s own studies administration as a Dual Career service which will benefit a broader group of students.
Education, Public/Media, External target group, Aarhus University, Policy and strategy