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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Scottish National Standardised Assessments, Programme for Government 2018-19, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, University of Stirling (University for Sporting Excellence)


University of Stirling (University for Sporting Excellence)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-13570, in the name of Keith Brown, on University of Stirling, 10 years as Scotland’s university for sporting excellence. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that the University of Stirling is celebrating 10 years since its designation as Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence in 2008; recognises the contribution that its students and alumni have made to Scotland’s sporting success locally, nationally and internationally, including a tally of 11 medals at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and three at the 2016 Olympics in Rio; considers that this excellence in performance, participation, research and academia will be strengthened further by the establishment of Scotland’s National Tennis Academy and a £20 million transformation of the university’s sports facilities, and believes that a thriving sport and health culture is of benefit, not just to the university, but to the community in Stirling and Clackmannanshire.


Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

I thank members from all parties who signed the motion that allowed the debate to take place. Some of those members are here this evening and might be—I know that some definitely are—alumni of the University of Stirling. I look forward to hearing their contributions.

I am delighted to welcome to the public gallery representatives from the university: Cathy Gallagher, director of sport; David Bond, head of performance sport; Caitlin Ormiston, student union sport president; Euan McGinn, high-performance tennis coach; Maia Lumsden, tennis; Scott Duncan, tennis; and Ross Murdoch, swimming. During the height of Ross Murdoch’s success at the Commonwealth games, I saw him at Queen Street railway station in Glasgow. I was going to say hello, but I was too shy—he was surrounded by admirers at the time in any event. It is great to have Ross here. I also welcome George Clough, swimming; Callum Lawrie, swimming; Cameron Brodie, swimming; Chris Purdie, performance sports co-ordinator; Matt Francis, public affairs manager; Steve Tigg, high-performance swimming coach; and Josh Williamson, assistant swimming coach.

Many people think that the University of Stirling lies within the constituency of Stirling, which is represented by my good friend Bruce Crawford, who has been happy to indulge that illusion. He has spoken on many occasions in the chamber on behalf of the University of Stirling when it was impossible for me to do so as a minister, and he is a great friend to the university. However, the university falls within the boundaries of the fine constituency of Clackmannanshire and Dunblane, which I am privileged to represent.

I am delighted to lead the debate to highlight the university’s 10th anniversary as Scotland’s university for sporting excellence. That title was bestowed on the university by the former First Minister, Alex Salmond, in July 2008 to celebrate the university as a centre of excellence that provides training and support for high-performance athletes. Alongside the prestigious title, the university was awarded £600,000 from the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council to act as the hub of a national network of universities and colleges, and to provide training and support for Scotland’s best athletes. It is known as the winning students programme.

I pay tribute to the work of Professor Grant Jarvie, who bent my ear on many occasions about the bestowing of the title and honour to the university, and the work of my colleague Fiona Hyslop, who was then the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning. The work that they jointly did recognised and supported the University of Stirling as an institution that had sport very much at the heart of its identity. I think that, long before it had the title, it was the first university to offer a degree in golf. I remember that Gordon Sherry was an early student for that degree at the university. That made the university the ideal choice as Scotland’s university for sporting excellence.

Over the past decade, Stirling sport stars, including household names such as Duncan Scott, whom I had the chance to meet recently at the university, Robbie Renwick and Ross Murdoch, whom I have mentioned, have enjoyed medal success on the world stage at the Olympics and the Commonwealth games.

The University of Stirling remains at the forefront of supporting and inspiring talented athletes to fulfil their sporting and academic potential. It offers sports scholarships across seven sports, including men’s football and women’s football. We should, of course, acknowledge the fantastic achievement of the Scottish women’s football team. [Applause.] If only the men could match that achievement. The university also offers sports scholarships in tennis—in which there have been tremendous achievements by local people, such as Jamie and Andy Murray—triathlon, golf, swimming and curling.

At the community level, Stirling is host to Central Athletic Club, which is one of the largest in central Scotland and is home to Scottish champions, record holders and internationalists.

Since 2008, Stirling has produced leading athletes across a wide range of sports, such as the triathletes David McNamee, Grant Sheldon and Natalie Milne, the badminton star Kirsty Gilmour, and the tennis ace Jonny O’Mara. The Scotland hockey international Alison Bell, curling’s Kyle Waddell, and the boccia star Scott McCowan, who competed for team GB at the Paralympics, also came through Stirling programmes.

I want to mention some particularly notable highlights of the past 10 years. At the 2010 Commonwealth games in Delhi, the Stirling swimmers Andy Hunter, Jak Scott and Lewis Smith won silver for team Scotland in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay. At the 2014 Commonwealth games in Glasgow, Ross Murdoch won gold in the 200m breaststroke and bronze in the 100m event. Jak Scott and fellow Stirling scholar Cameron Brodie won silver at the games, finishing second in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay.

Stirling scooped three silver medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, with Duncan Scott and Robbie Renwick in the Great Britain team that finished second in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay. Duncan Scott was also part of the team that won silver in the 4 x 100m freestyle relay.

A number of Scottish international women footballers have come through the ranks at Stirling, including the former Manchester City and current West Ham United striker Jane Ross. The university’s women’s football team currently plays in the Scottish women’s premier league.

In rugby, the Stirling students Megan Kennedy and Siobhan Cattigan made their senior Scotland debuts in February 2018 against Wales in the first round of the women’s six nations.

In October 2017, the university’s female golf team made history after triumphing in one of the highest-ranked college tournaments in the US. It secured top spot at the Yale Intercollegiate Invitational in Connecticut. The landmark was believed to be the first time that an international team has won a National Collegiate Athletic Association division 1 tournament, which is the highest level of college competition in the US. Anybody who knows about the US system knows how high the level is in US colleges. That accolade came shortly after the men’s and women’s golf teams retained the European University Sports Association golf championship title in September 2017, having previously been crowned champions in Switzerland in 2015.

In December 2017, three Stirling students—Scott Duncan, Maia Lumsden and Jonny O’Mara—won the world event of university tennis when team GB defeated the USA in the final of the Master’U BNP Paribas in Lille.

In 2018, university athletes saw the university enjoy its greatest success to date. They returned from the Gold Coast Commonwealth games with 11 medals. The number of medals that the University of Stirling won exceeds those that entire countries won at those games. An outstanding performance from Duncan Scott in particular meant that the 21-year-old swimmer from Alloa—which is also in my Clackmannanshire and Dunblane constituency; I just thought that I would mention that—took gold in the 100m freestyle, silver in the 200m individual medley and four bronze medals in the 200m freestyle, the 200m butterfly, and the 4 x 100m and 4 x 200m freestyle relay events. Scott McLay and Craig McLean were also part of team Scotland’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay squad, and Ross Murdoch left Australia with a silver for his efforts in the 200m breaststroke. English swimmer Aimee Willmott won gold in the 400m individual medley final, while Marc Austin—a former sports scholar—won bronze in the triathlon.

That huge list of achievements is a lot to live up to, but I will finish by looking forward to the next 10 years, when I am sure that the university will continue to go from strength to strength. I should also mention the huge impact of the university and its facilities on the community in my constituency and in Bruce Crawford’s constituency.

Earlier this year, the Lawn Tennis Association announced that Stirling would be home to one of its two national academies, and Scottish Rugby revealed that the university, in partnership with Stirling County, would have a place in its new semi-professional super 6 league. The university continues to be home to the national swimming academy, while sportscotland, Commonwealth Games Scotland, Scottish Swimming, Triathlon Scotland and the staff of the Scottish Football Association’s central region are all located on campus.

The facilities are undergoing a £20 million redevelopment that will integrate an iconic new complex with the existing world-class facilities. The new building will include purpose-built studios, an innovative fitness suite, a three-court sports hall, an indoor cycling studio, a strength and conditioning area and a new state-of-the-art high-performance suite. Users of the new building will also benefit from enhanced changing facilities and communal spaces.

The enhanced sports facilities will not just support Scotland’s elite athletes but bring greater benefits for the wider community. Each week, 500 children attend the university’s sports classes in tennis, swimming and golf, and a further 350 children attend holiday classes each year. That gives aspiring young swimmers and tennis players the chance to train alongside performance athletes. Capturing the interest of children at a young age works towards supporting the next generation of sporting talent while helping to foster a culture of healthy, active lifestyles among future generations of Scots.

I look forward to Stirling’s next 10 years as Scotland’s university for sporting excellence. I am sure that they will bring even greater success than the past 10 years have. [Applause.]

I am sure that every speech will be worth applauding, but I ask those who are in the public gallery not to applaud. Thank you.


Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I congratulate Keith Brown on securing time in the chamber to highlight the University of Stirling’s success as Scotland’s centre of sporting excellence. I will highlight why the university is so important to Scottish sport across the board.

The university has a sporting heritage, but until the advent of the current approach, a lot of our talented athletes were sucked away to the American college system or down south to places like Loughborough University or Brunel University London. It is so important to have such a facility in Scotland because it allows our talented Scots to stay in their community and perhaps to remain closely attached to their own coaches and training environment. Moving to an American university is daunting, to say the least. My middle daughter looked into it, but did not do it.

Stirling differs from the American college system in that people who go to America are expected to represent their university week in and week out, which in many sports does not suit performance and medal winning at major championships. In the US, there are athletics competitions that set university against university every week throughout the winter, right through to May. By the time the outdoor season arrives, many of our athletes are burned out, which severely dents their ability to win medals at major championships.

At Stirling, athletes can do their training in a way that fits in with their academic day. The university provides a hub that makes strength and conditioning work available where they are; in general, athletes have to seek out other venues for such activities and for physiotherapy and medical support. I cannot overstate how important it is to have access to all that in one area on one campus. Removing the stress from the academic lives of young athletes by allowing them easily to fit their training in with their studies is hugely important.

Quite rightly, Keith Brown spent most of his speech telling us about all the medals that have been won in that environment. That is not a happy accident: the set-up at Stirling university has been designed specifically to allow our elite sportsmen and sportswomen to deliver at the highest level. The academic flexibility that is provided around students’ sporting activity is massively important.

As well as providing membership of its sports facilities, the university provides young athletes with help in developing a media profile. In the past, such support has been haphazard, and many sportsmen and sportswomen have been caught out in that environment.

As well as highlighting the route into international sport that the University of Stirling offers, I want to make the point that we must be cognisant of the step before that—how we ensure that the funnel of talent into the university brings in people from all demographies.

I reiterate what Keith Brown said, and congratulate the University of Stirling on its incredible delivery of talent. Here’s to the next 10 years.


Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I, too, congratulate Keith Brown on securing tonight’s debate.

I am delighted to speak in support of the motion, which celebrates the fact that it is 10 years since the University of Stirling’s designation as Scotland’s university for sporting excellence. I am pleased to recognise the university’s success—especially given that one of my daughters went there, although not for sport, but to study geography and teaching.

The training and support that the university provides for high-performance athletes is world class, so it is right that we recognise and celebrate that. Over the past 10 years, athletes from Stirling have enjoyed great success on the world stage, including at the Olympics and the Commonwealth games. Indeed, as the motion notes, Stirling students and former students won 11 medals at the most recent Commonwealth games, and three at the Olympics in Rio two years ago.

As Mr Brown highlighted, at the 2010 Commonwealth games in Delhi, Stirling swimmers Andy Hunter, Jak Scott and Lewis Smith won silver for team Scotland in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay, and further success came four years later in Glasgow, where Ross Murdoch won gold in the 200m breaststroke and bronze in the 100m event. Jak Scott and fellow Stirling scholar Cameron Brodie also won silver medals at the 2014 games, when they finished second in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay.

Stirling scooped three silver medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Duncan Scott and Robbie Renwick were in the Great Britain team that finished second in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay, and Duncan Scott was part of the team that won silver in the 4 x 100m freestyle relay.

Therefore, there is no doubt that Scotland’s university for sporting excellence is a great success when it comes to elite athletes, but as the motion recognises, it also provides a wider benefit to the communities of Stirling and Clackmannanshire. Indeed, I would say that it provides a wider benefit for all of Scotland, because the success of its athletes sends a strong message to all Scotland’s young people who have an interest in sport: that they can succeed and achieve their full potential.

This morning, I was delighted to listen to a 12-year-old girl speak on a BBC phone-in about her delight at the Scotland women’s football team qualifying for the world cup. She had been to Paisley to see the team play and wanted to know how to get involved in the game through a local team. That is a great example of how the success of individuals and teams can have a strong influence on others getting involved in sport.

As a country, we need everyone to become more physically active. Just this morning, the World Health Organization issued a report that says that we are getting less active. Yesterday, the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee heard from Paths for All, which is a charity in Scotland that champions walking every day. Its submission said:

“Physical inactivity has been estimated to cost Scotland £91 million annually”.

Therefore, tonight’s message from Parliament is “Well done” to the University of Stirling and all the athletes, because their efforts send a strong message to young people who are interested in sport across Scotland that they can achieve their full potential and that there is support for them.


Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

First, I congratulate my colleague Keith Brown on bringing the debate to the chamber. It is great to see so many representatives of Scotland’s university of sporting excellence in the gallery.

As a University of Stirling alumnus, I am delighted to take part in this celebration of my old university of which I have such good memories of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Well, there were no drugs and there was no sex, but there was occasional rock ’n’ roll and a lot of running around. It seems only a few weeks ago that I was running around campus and being out on cold nights going through Bridge of Allan enjoying, when possible, the spectacular scenery that Stirling and its surroundings have to offer. There could not be a more perfect setting for Scotland’s university for sporting excellence.

Sport is dismissed by some people as being something to which we should not attach too much importance, or as being not worth investing in. Labelling sport as such is not only daft, but wrong.

Keith Brown named many illustrious athletes; it would be churlish to try to name them once more. However, although I will not repeat all the achievements of the countless swimmers, curlers and other international medallists who studied at the university for sporting excellence, I will say that they have done their families, themselves, the university and Scotland proud.

Given last night’s result, I hope that some members will go to France next year to support the Scottish women’s football team—not least because so few of us are likely to be alive by the time the male team next qualifies, given its past 20 years’ history.

I will mention again former Manchester City and current West Ham United striker Jane Ross, because she is a great role model, especially considering that girls are still less likely to engage in physical activity than boys, which is a trend that continues into adulthood. Watching athletes succeed can be inspiring, and when they can identify with an individual athlete or team, it can give the young person confidence. They might think, “If he or she can do it, maybe I can, too.”

Nothing is better than active participation. The chief medical officer recommends 75 minutes a week of high-intensity exercise, or 150 minutes a week of lower-intensity exercise for adults, and 60 minutes a day for children.

Such exercise comes with a plethora of benefits. Regular physical activity has been proved to reduce the chance of type 2 diabetes by 40 per cent, and the chance of colon and breast cancer by 20 per cent. It also helps to manage stress, to maintain or regain a healthy weight and more. That applies not only to top sport, but to regular exercise such as walking a dog or going for a bike ride. It all counts.

The facilities that are to be developed at the University of Stirling will not benefit just students or people in Stirling and Bridge of Allan. Neighbouring communities in Clackmannanshire, across central Scotland and beyond will be able to enjoy them.

Needless to say, Stirling’s university for sporting excellence is not the only special venue that we have in Scotland. My Cunninghame North constituency also prides itself on having two national centres—one in Cumbrae and one in Largs—where sporting talent can be accommodated. Last year, the newly refurbished £12 million sportscotland Inverclyde national sports training centre opened in Largs, helped by £6 million from the Scottish Government. The facility is unique. It is the first place in Europe where disabled athletes can stay and train at fully integrated world-class multisports facilities. It is open to high-performance athletes, sports clubs, school and education groups, governing bodies and the local community.

As part of its on-going efforts to produce a healthier nation and prioritise the development of sport in Scotland, the Scottish Government increased sportscotland’s core funding by £2 million from £29.7 million to £31.7 million, which is an increase of 6.7 per cent.

In June, “A More Active Scotland: Scotland’s Physical Activity Delivery Plan” was published, which presents a wide-ranging set of concrete actions across multiple sectors to encourage physical activity and reduce inactivity.

The strategy takes a holistic approach by encouraging work across transport, education, health and other sectors, in line with the “Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030” that was recently published by the World Health Organization. It sets out four objectives and recommends 20 policy actions that apply to all countries in addressing the cultural, environmental and individual determinants of inactivity, with the aim of increasing regular exercise and sport participation by people in Scotland. Scotland was hailed by Professor Fiona Bull, president of the International Society for Physical Activity and Health, as a “forerunner” in addressing those objectives.

The £20 million investment in the University of Stirling is also a strong commitment to Scotland’s sporting future

I congratulate and thank all those who have been involved with and benefited from the University of Stirling as Scotland’s centre for sporting excellence over the past 10 years, and I wish them every success in the future. It is important that we encourage children and adults across Scotland to keep active and fit by exercising in any way they can. Yes—if they are exceptionally talented, they may end up at Stirling. However, even if they cannot run like a deer or serve like Andy Murray, they will absolutely reap the benefits of regular exercise.


Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I join other members in thanking Keith Brown for bringing the motion to debate. It is good to see that he is finally free of the shackles of ministerial constraint.

I offer warmest congratulations to University of Stirling students and staff on an incredible decade of success. They have given me a constant, perpetual lump in my throat as I have watched major Commonwealth, European, Olympic and world championships and heard the university mentioned time and again as the medal tallies for Stirling students have grown and often overtaken those of entire nations.

Those successes show the peak of personal and team achievement at the elite level, but it is clear that what sits underneath such triumphs is a strong foundation of research and personal development across the university community. That success has been felt right across the campus. In 2014, I was really heartened to hear of film and media students finding career-changing broadcasting internships during the Commonwealth games. Stirling’s lead on sport has really benefited the whole community and the whole of the campus.

Stirling has always had a great reputation for sport. Keith Brown reminded us that it introduced its first sport scholarships back in 1981. Sport has always been a very important part of the wider student experience on campus. I recently took the Swedish finance minister on a visit back to Stirling, where he studied alongside me in the 1990s. He talked passionately to the students—not about how politics was his main love but about how the basketball team was such a big part of his time at Stirling. Today, sport is more important than ever as part of that wider student experience, and I am sure that it is one of the reasons why the university will enter the list of the top 20 universities in the UK in the next few years.

In 2008, the launch of Stirling as Scotland’s university for sporting excellence took the facilities, the research, the tailored study programmes, the headquartering of sports bodies and the success to a whole new level. The national tennis centre has been an important part of that success story, and the funds to develop a multimillion pound coaching programme at the centre will further embed that success for years to come. However, I find it perplexing that, one year ago, ministers granted the nearby Park of Keir development planning permission in principle, on the basis that it was the national tennis centre. It is not: the real one is a couple of miles down the road and the university has confirmed that it has no links with Park of Keir. Clearly, creating a Murray tennis legacy is important nationally and for the Stirling and Dunblane area. However, I see the national tennis centre at the university as a central part of such a legacy, as is the £15 million investment in grassroots facilities around Scotland that will feed the champions of tomorrow into it.

Partnerships should be built around the Stirling area, founded on well-thought-through and sustainable facilities to build on the university’s success. It was disappointing that a Stirling-wide bid to secure the £30 million national performance centre lost out to Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt in 2013. However, Stirling is now in a far stronger position to develop fresh partnerships and bid again when the next opportunity arises. I hope that, through the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city deal, stronger links can be developed for the Stirling area—and the national park—as a major venue for sporting events and a centre of excellence that can inspire and draw in locals and visitors alike.

I congratulate the University of Stirling, its students and staff. Here’s to future decades of partnerships, excellence, success and inspiration.


Bruce Crawford (Stirling) (SNP)

Like other members, I congratulate my colleague and good friend Keith Brown on bringing this important debate to the chamber. The university is an important institution that links my constituency, Stirling, with that of Keith Brown, which is Clackmannanshire and Dunblane. Keith can be assured that I will continue to bask in the success of the university, despite the fact that it lies in his constituency. I will do that with even more vigour in future, because somebody must have given him a copy of my speech before the debate this evening. However, it was inevitable that we would cover some of the same ground and it is worth repeating, because some of what has been achieved at Stirling university is truly phenomenal.

Many students reside in Stirling city during term time and make a huge contribution to the local economy and our communities. This important debate will in particular tell us about Stirling university’s experience at the Commonwealth games and the huge sporting success that its students achieved on the Gold Coast of Australia.

Since first opening its doors to students almost 51 years ago—it is even younger than me—the University of Stirling has grown immensely to become the institution that we know today, which is famed for its contribution to health and sport. In relation to its size, Stirling university’s achievement in sport is unrivalled around the globe. It offers a number of world-class health science and sporting courses, which inspire even more people into careers in professional sport.

Perhaps most notable is the recent success of the university’s swimming team. At the 2016 Rio Olympic games, the University of Stirling was Scotland’s best performing university. The team GB swimmers took home three silver medals and Stirling university swimmers Duncan Scott and Robbie Renwick were part of the squad that sealed Olympic silver in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay. The squad achieved its best result in 108 years, setting a new record for the GB team, and Duncan Scott went on to smash the UK record for the 100m relay.

Their successes in Rio in 2016 were carried into the Gold Coast last year. The Commonwealth games were a hugely successful event for the university’s sporting team. The Herald reported that if Stirling university had been an independent nation, it would have been fifth on the leader board at those games. Again, local swimmers such as Duncan Scott, who is now a local and national hero, Robbie Renwick, Ross Murdoch and Aimee Willmott won big for the university. There are so many fantastic athletes and it is a pity that we cannot name them all—although Keith Brown did a damned good job when trying to do that. I ask those I have not been able to mention to forgive me.

All the athletes deserve personal credit for their phenomenal performances and so, too, does the University of Stirling for providing the base that nurtured those incredible athletes. Sport is clearly part of the ethos of the university, which sets out its unwavering focus on providing the time, space and support to develop the best possible sporting performers. In the past decade, Stirling has nurtured many star athletes, including triathletes, badminton and tennis stars, and international hockey players, as well as curling and Paralympic sportspeople.

We can now celebrate Scotland’s national women’s football team qualifying for the world cup, and I make special mention of the contribution that the university has made to women’s football. A number of Scottish international women’s footballers passed through the ranks at the university, and I thank them deeply, as I might at last get to a world cup again. I was there the last time that Scotland played in France—where the women will play this summer—and saw the Scottish men’s team getting gubbed by the Moroccan team in Saint-Étienne. It was not a good experience, so I am looking forward to the women making a much better contribution on behalf of our national football teams.

The University of Stirling’s contribution to Scottish sport is the pride of our nation. Well done to all who have been involved—staff, students and alumni—and best of luck to all those who are still to pass through the doors of the university in the coming years. We will continue to cheer you on.


Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

It is a pleasure to speak in tonight’s debate, which, at least until now, has been very interesting, with a number of informed contributions from across the chamber. Like colleagues, I congratulate Keith Brown on securing the debate. It is apt that he appears to have done so at near-Olympic speed, having changed roles and been given the opportunity to do such things again.

For my part, I am not some great sports person, and sports did not feature in my university experience. I will not even go into Kenny Gibson’s list and speculate on anything else. However, like many people across our nation, I recognise how important sport is and how key to our national identity. Hearing Bruce Crawford say just now that Stirling would not just have outperformed many small countries, but many medium and large-sized countries, is a testament to how great a job is done there.

It is super to hear the list of all the individuals. Like many others, I have enjoyed watching and sharing in their successes, sometimes at events such as the Commonwealth games and sometimes at home on television, where people sometimes get more animated and fixated on proceedings. As others have said, it is important to remember that behind all those individuals is an excellent team and community at the university. That is what makes it so special, attracting not just elite sports people but their coaches and staff, and others in research and the associated excellence that goes with it.

It is very important, because it has put Scotland on the global map. Universities are often measured solely on their research or academic achievements, of which Stirling has many, along with many successful initiatives to commercialise research for the university, but there can be no doubt that the tremendous success of the individuals and teams that have come out of the university, including those in the gallery, has put our whole country on the map. That is the one area in which I think the motion does a slight disservice to Stirling, because its benefits are truly national and for the whole of Scotland. We can all be very proud of Stirling.

I was interested in the point made by Brian Whittle about the unique benefits that Stirling offers in terms of keeping talented young Scottish people here, which I had not previously considered. It is another attribute that we should think about carefully. Certainly, representing the part of Scotland that I do, I am keen to pick up on some of the points that he went on to raise around ensuring that young people here have the opportunity to benefit from those facilities.

I thank Keith Brown again for introducing the debate and congratulate everyone who has been involved in making Stirling university one of the crown jewels of our Scottish education system, with its tremendous record as Scotland’s university for sporting excellence.


The Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing (Joe FitzPatrick)

I thank Keith Brown for leading the debate, and I thank members from across the chamber who have contributed. I add my welcome to the representatives in the gallery; I am sure that we will cross paths many times in the months to come. I also take the opportunity to congratulate the University of Stirling for reaching a decade as Scotland’s university for sporting excellence.

This is my first speech as the minister for sport, which I will start by formally congratulating the Scotland women’s football team on its fantastic performance in qualifying for next year’s world cup. We all look forward to backing them all the way in France.

One of the things that folk ask a new sports minister is, “What’s your sporting pedigree?” It is difficult to follow Brian Whittle, who has such an obvious sporting pedigree—I am surprised that he did not bring his many medals to the chamber today, as he has promised to do in the past. He must have forgotten them.

However, today’s debate is a good opportunity for me to put on the record my sporting past. As a young member of the Scottish midland district swimming team, I remember spending many summer holidays doing intensive training at the facilities at the University of Stirling. I was there for weeks on end, year after year, of which I have many happy memories. I do not know whether Kenneth Gibson was studying at the university at the same time; I am not certain of the age difference between us.

I am much younger. [Laughter.]

Joe FitzPatrick

Scotland’s university for sporting excellence would not have happened without the vision and advocacy of Professor Grant Jarvie, who is now at the University of Edinburgh and is currently leading the review of Scotland’s sporting landscape. His vision came to fruition and meant that Scotland secured an accessible international centre of sporting excellence that could compete for the significant public investment that was being delivered through the universities of Loughborough and Bath.

During the past 10 years, the University of Stirling has managed a sports scholarship programme called winning students. The programme is a great example of national partners and academic institutions in our sporting system working together to provide funding and academic flexibility to gifted student athletes from across Scotland.

The university has also been able to bring together specialists in research. Their shared knowledge has allowed athletes and coaches alike to develop and succeed.

Dean Lockhart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

First, I welcome the minister to his new position.

As the minister probably knows, there are more international students at the University of Stirling than ever before. Does he agree that part of the attraction for those students is the world-class sporting facilities that are available there?

Joe FitzPatrick

I am sure that that is correct. That goes two ways: all other students at the university benefit from the presence of those international students.

In 2012, the university opened its high-performance sports science and sports medicine facility, which was another great milestone. The centre was funded partly by the Scottish Government. Its assessment laboratory, biomechanical centre and sports medicine facility have benefited not just the students at the university, but the performance athletes who are based at sportscotland’s institute of sport, which is also located on the university campus. The facility is open to our sports’ governing bodies and clubs, and the physiotherapy service is open to the local community.

The drive and expertise at the university, along with its top-class facilities, which have benefited from national lottery investment through sportscotland, have helped to facilitate the basing of the national tennis centre and national swimming academy at the university, as we have heard. In addition, the university provides a home for Commonwealth Games Scotland, Triathlon Scotland and the Scottish Football Association’s central region.

Sportscotland’s institute of sport and the university enjoy a close relationship, which enables them to create high-performance environments that benefit our athletes who perform on the world stage. Scotland has certainly felt the benefits. In the recent Gold Coast games Scotland had its highest medal total in an away Commonwealth games, and we have just seen great success for Scottish athletes at the recent European championships, as part of team Great Britain. I had not heard the statistic that Bruce Crawford quoted, but if it is accurate, it is incredible.

Brian Whittle

Does the minister agree that one of the main issues in relation to the University of Stirling’s facilities is that success breeds success? Our winning medals sucks more people into aspiring to that level and attending the university.

Joe FitzPatrick

There is no question but that the sporting success of athletes from across Scotland, including the women’s football team’s success in qualifying for the world cup, will inspire people throughout Scotland to get involved in sport, whether they participate at grass-roots level or at the highest levels. That is really important.

During the European championships, I spoke to a number of people who had been inspired—in particular, volunteers who had watched sports that they had never seen before and were going to give them a shot. That is a really good thing. As Kenneth Gibson said, physical activity is one of the most important things that we can do to improve our health—mental as well as physical—and to carry on having success such as that of elite athletes who have come out of Stirling, including Andy and Jamie Murray.

The area has a proud tradition in the world of tennis, so I was delighted to hear that the University of Stirling being named as one of the two UK national academies for tennis. The academy will provide a new seamless pathway from grass-roots tennis to the world of elite players. It opens in September 2019 and will allow our young players to experience a holistic environment in which to stay and train, with access to the best coaching, science, medical and welfare facilities. Tennis Scotland is doing a fantastic job at the grass-roots level, and now has a clear pathway for taking youngsters forward to championships. I hope that we will see many more players being nurtured to play at the highest of levels, such as Andy and Jamie Murray are experiencing.

Of course, the university does much more than deal with only elite athletes. It is committed to providing sporting and physical activity opportunities for all its students. There is strong support for that from Scottish Student Sport, which provides opportunities for all students to participate in sports with other students. That focus chimes with our active Scotland outcomes framework and wider Scottish Government commitments to getting people more physically active and enjoying longer and healthier lives.

I again congratulate the University of Stirling on reaching 10 years as Scotland’s university of sporting excellence, and wish it the very best of success for the future.

Meeting closed at 17:51.