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Choosing where to study

Sport facilities at university

Find out what sports and recreation facilities are available at UK universities and how they can benefit you – including advice for disabled students.

Panoramic shot of university with rugby fields


  1. University sport

  2. Sports facilities

  3. University sports table

  4. Disability and university sport

  5. Benefits of university sport

University sport

Representative and student-run sports are offered at university at all levels. Getting physically active can help boost your energy, mental health and even academic performance. 

Universities recognise that different students are motivated by different things. Those who wish to compete seriously can join a sports team and represent the university but there are also other activities, primarily there for fun and enjoyment.

University sports is usually offered at these levels:

  • Representative or performance sport – at varsity level, i.e. competition between universities
  • Intramural sport – competition level within your university
  • Social and recreational sport – informal participation
  • Health and wellbeing or lifestyle – e.g. gym, fitness, yoga and Pilates classes

Trying a new sport at university

Don't worry if you've never played a particular sport or want to try a new activity. The emphasis is often on ‘sport for all’ where students are encouraged to try something new.

Qualified coaches run most classes in popular activities such as badminton, squash and aerobics. If team sports aren’t your thing, there’s usually a broad range of classes and recreational programmes on offer. Any equipment you need is usually readily available.

Most universities offer both beginner classes and coaching for those who wish to improve. These can be run by staff employed in university sports and recreation departments, or by fellow students.

The scale and range of taught recreation programmes varies from one university to another – some offer over 100 classes a week. They provide an ideal opportunity to grasp the basics of a sport or a range of activities both cheaply and without any long-term commitment.

Many universities offer coaching courses and provide leadership and volunteering opportunities for students.

Sports facilities

University sports and physical activity continues to develop and is seen as an important part of the student experience. Whether you’re an occasional gym-goer or an elite athlete, universities offer some of the finest sports facilities and support services in the UK.

Most have facilities for a full range of traditional sports such as football, rugby, netball, badminton, hockey, cricket, tennis and squash. Many also include less common sports such as archery, American football, caving, fencing, gliding, motorsports, sub-aqua, triathlon, ultimate frisbee and windsurfing.

Additionally, there are opportunities to take part in a wide range of 'lifestyle' or fitness activities, from Zumba to Pilates and working out in high-quality, affordable gyms.

Universities are active supporters of student sports at all levels because of the range of benefits it brings to campus life: exercise, a chance to let off steam and make friends, plus good publicity and relationships between students and the local residents. Universities try to keep Wednesday afternoons free from teaching so students can take part in sports.

Universities provide and subsidise facilities, fund professional staff to manage facilities, provide activity programmes (such as recreation classes) and services (such as physiotherapy), and support student clubs in a range of ways.

Many open days have sports sessions where you can ask questions to staff and students about facilities, training and competition.

Row of students running on the treadmill

University sports table

In partnership with British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS), we contacted universities from around the UK to find out what facilities and sports clubs are available to students.

Using our university sports table, you can check what’s on offer – either by the university or by one or more specific sport. You can see if there are other local sports opportunities or volunteer programmes where you can develop coaching or referee skills. Elite athletes can find universities that offer performance athlete support services.

Disability and university sport

BUCS is keen to promote inclusion in sport, noting that 17% fewer disabled students take part in sports at university than their non-disabled peers.

Some universities have more on offer. Examples of best practice listed by BUCS include the University of Bath, which has a Disability Sports Day. In Sheffield, a Disability in Sport Week is run by the student unions of the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University.

Contact your university – or the students’ union – about what activities are available to disabled students.

Benefits of university sport

You may feel you’re too busy with your studies to prioritise sports. However, research suggests that those who take part in physical activity get better grades. You also benefit in other ways.

The British Active Student Survey 2018, conducted by BUCS, Scottish Student Sport (SSS) and ukactive, surveyed nearly 6,891 students. It found that active students:

  • Were more likely to get a higher grade, with 95% expecting a 1st or 2.1 – this was 10% above the expectation of inactive students
  • Were more confident about finding a job just after graduation
  • Felt less socially isolated, with few feeling left out or that people didn't know them
  • Felt less anxiety

Physical activity can reduce stress levels from course deadlines and exams. Sports can also hone your powers of observation and the ability to focus. Employability skills are enhanced, such as working towards targets, using strategy and drive, and communication and teamwork. Social isolation decreases through widening your circle of friends outside of the subject you study.

Another benefit of joining a gym or playing sports at university is the cost. Participation can cost very little compared to private facilities and are often subsidised by the society or the institution itself. Keeping fit and having fun needn't break the bank.

Starting university – moving from home, living with people you've only just met, and studying in a different way than you're used to – can be stressful. Taking part in sports, particularly team sports, helps to boost your mental health and beat stress.

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