The Fifa Master at the Switzerland-based International Centre for Sport Studies (CIES) placed third in the 2019 rankings, the first non-US course to finish in the top three since winning the rankings itself in 2014. Ahead of the 20thanniversary of the course, Vincent Schatzmann, CIES General Secretary and Dr Kevin Tallec Marston, Academic Projects Manager & Research Fellow, spoke to Adam Nelson about how CIES has built on solid foundations over the last 12 months, and explain the changes that should see it go from strength to strength over the next 12.
You maintained your place as the top course in Europe and moved into the top three worldwide. What are the strengths of the Fifa Master that have helped you to this position?
VS:First of all, we have the trust and support of Fifa for more than 20 years. With three strong universities (De Montfort, SDA Bocconi and Neuchâtel), CIES coordinates an international partnership which is unique in higher education and key to the success of the Fifa Master programme. Concretely speaking, thereare three pillars in what we do, in terms of our core business. It’s recruitment, it’s the course itself, and it’s the job placement alumni services. Those are the three main areas where we are continuously improving, and I would say that in the last two to three years we have really put an effort into developing the academic journey that is the Fifa Master.
KTM: Firstly, in terms of recruitment, we have been able to increase the number of scholarships that we offer, which has been of great benefit, specifically for the Asian region. We have struck up a partnership with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). As a result, they have been willing to support five students every year, Asian students working in Asian football who will come to do the course and then go back and work in Asian football. This has been a boost for us to be able to offer more scholarships which in turn strengthens our recruitment.
VS: The other major milestone is that this year we are going into our 20th year; the 2019-20 academic year will be our 20th anniversary. We’ve started, and are currently undergoing, a full curriculum revision which means revisiting the content, the structure of the modules, the teaching, the visits, even all the way down to the level of how we do our exams.
And we’ve started already in the last year to introduce a couple of new topics that are important for understanding the dynamics and trends in the industry. In our process we surveyed quite a few sports organisations to get a better idea of what the hot topics are that we needed to be teaching. For example, we’ve included new sub-modules on human rights and sport, equality and inclusion, CSR and sustainability. In parallel, we worked with our professors to ground our course in the most up to date research. For example, we have tweaked the law module to be more about the law and governance of sport, bringing in a lot of industry speakers, key people from organisations and stakeholders in order to talk about the good governance of sport. So, based on listening to the industry and anchoring our teaching in the latest research, the curriculum has been fundamentally rethought, in order to provide an updated academic and a challenging intellectual experience for the class.
You performed strongly in graduate employment rates. How have you worked to improve there?
VS: On the placement side, there are a number of different things. Our career services have been strengthened by iWorkInSport, which is the job fair that is organised in Lausanne every year, and we are now in the third year running.
KTM:That has really grown and while we do not own the project, it’s a CIES-supported endeavour, and it has now begun to offer something that benefits not just our course but other courses in the industry, across Europe, even Columbia University actually sent students to the job fair here. That has opened many opportunities for interviews and jobs for the current class and even for alumni who are one, two, three years out and looking for a change. So it’s a fabulous opportunity to connect recruiters in the industry and our students.
And then our alumni association is obviously very active creating regional groups. For the first time in 20 years, we really have the critical mass to have enough people in different regions around the world where we can actually have operating regional subgroups, people using various social media tools to create regional networks.
We have WhatsApp groups for the alumni in Asia, in South America, North America, et cetera, and even for different topics. For example, we have a sports law WhatsApp group who exchange regularly on all of the key issues, debate topics in sports law, and to post recruitment notices.We also have a closed Facebook page where Alumni can exchange ideas, and a dedicated Fifa Master Alumni website (www.fifama.org). However, some features are also publicly available such as the news and the list of alumni, but then some others are exclusively reserved for Alumni. So you can, for example, filter who you want to see, which profile you want to see, and find Alumni that could help you in your daily business.
VS:It just leverages 20 years of putting people in the industry. It gives us an opportunity to keep our community connected, using platforms that didn’t exist 15 years ago, something which also helps to bring supply and demand in terms of the hiring/networking market to a centralised place where everybody can find everybody.
What kind of opportunities do your graduates usually get?
VS:One of the big changes in the last two years is that we have strengthened our links with Fifa, especially in recruiting our students. We have six people who are taking an internship at Fifa each year, plus two or three more taking permanent positions. In general, we also noted more and more people joining International and National level sports organisations.
KTM: And another huge change is how many Alumni are now involved with startups, becoming entrepreneurs, creating their own opportunities. MyCujoo was founded by a Fifa Master alumnus.
For several years that we have been doing an entrepreneurship day, in which some of our alumni who created their own startup or company come back and provide insight into what it is to be an entrepreneur and how you could start your own business, which is interesting for current and future students because we have some very successful alumni.
VS: On the same topic, we will participate, with the whole Fifa Master class, in The SPOT in Lausanne. It’s a convention especially focused on startups in sport, with a lot of them focused on the federations based around Lausanne, offering their services there. The motto is: Stimulating progress in sport by bringing together original ideas and the latest innovations from both inside and outside the sports industry. We want to give this flavour to the students – they don’t have to just go work at the official federations and sports clubs, but there is a whole sector of startups providing services directly to the client.
What are some of the emerging industry trends that you will work into the revised 20thanniversary curriculum this year?
KTM:The key question of human rights is a big one. The broader issues of equality, inclusion, digital and analytics – those are big topics across sporting organisations. Then, the whole commercialisation and professionalisation of women’s sport is another topic that we have spent time on.
For example, we organised two fantastic days in Leicester right at the beginning of this academic year with specialists in women’s football and women’s sport from media, from federations, from clubs, and from leagues, with round table sessions with five different speakers from different aspects of the industry, to debate with the students about the commercial potential of women’s sport and the challenges to professionalize this important half of the sporting world.
VS:Obviously the governance question is a huge one. Anyone following football politics in the last few weeks will have heard about the potential reforms in European football competitions. We had a stakeholder day about three weeks ago with people from those organisations, to discuss and talk rather openly with the class. Being able to debate with these organisations and having them connected to the theoretical and academic side in the classroom is an incredible opportunity for our students.