The Fifa Master retains its podium place in 2020 and is again the highest-ranked European course – a position it has occupied in eight of the nine years we have run these rankings. One of just three courses to have occupied the top spot, which it achieved in 2014, the Fifa Master is a perennial contender at the top end of our table thanks to its international outlook and the consistently strong employment record of its alumni. Professor Denis Oswald, CIES and Fifa Master scientific committee director, tells SportBusiness about the challenges of managing a course across three countries.
The Fifa Master retained its third place in the rankings and closed the gap to second place. What are the strengths of the course that keep you up at the top?
To stay at the top for so long, two things are essential: to be student-focused and to be innovative. To achieve that, we have placed particular emphasis on student recruitment, the content of the Fifa Master programme, and job placement.
In the last few years, we have undertaken an in-depth analysis of our programme that allowed us to identify and implement new topics that we thought are essential. With such incredible university partners in SDA Bocconi in Milan, Demontfort in Leicester and Neuchâtel in Switzerland, who are constantly challenging themselves to teach better, to produce original research, we can confidently look to the future. In addition, we have listened to the industry and have revamped the curriculum in order to provide up-to-date academic content as well as enriching the experience for the students. For example, we have included new sub-modules on human rights and sport, equality and inclusion, CSR and sustainability.
This year was the 20th edition of the Fifa Master. What have been some of the highlights of the two decades?
We have been fortunate to attract such great students over the years, something we witness every time we have a global alumni gathering which began in 2006 for the first time. We are a people-centred educational endeavour. So it is rewarding to see students develop themselves, be entrusted with greater responsibilities and become great sport leaders and even better people.
Growing the partnership between the three universities, our foundation CIES and Fifa has been a real adventure. It has been incredible to see the fruit of the collaborative work from our staff – for example I remember the conferences and publications around research about sport and legacy at a time when the topic just beginning to garner attention.
Also, providing more scholarship opportunities than we had in the first years – we only had two scholarships at the start – allows us to support more of the best candidates to attend. Now we support around half the students with at least partial scholarships.
Last year marked the Fifa Master’s 20th anniversary and we celebrated this milestone by organising a special conference on the theme of ‘Female Leadership in International Sport’, with several alumni invited as guest speakers.
The course scored very highly for international students. How important an aspect of the course is it that you maintain that global outlook and attract students from all around the world?
The global outlook of the Fifa Master is an essential aspect of the programme. On average, in a class of 30 students, we have at least 25 different nationalities, normally coming from all continents, and that cultural exchange is a fantastic addition to the students’ experience. That outlook proves to be valuable also after graduation. Today the Fifa Master Alumni Association comprises over 560 alumni, from 108 nationalities, currently based in about 80 different countries. That means that you can find a Fifa Master alumnus almost everywhere in the world, and that has proved to be extremely valuable to our network of alumni.
It’s clearly been a very challenging year for the entire sector. What has your experience of 2020 been and how are you planning for the future?
Yes, it has and our experience, like everyone, was obviously full of surprises and crisis management, especially when you consider that we have students who come from all over the world and who are supposed to move across three countries for their studies at a time when international travel became almost impossible.
We learned the value of flexibility, doing more virtually, and still relying on teamwork across our institutional partners.
We had already been planning how to better integrate the digital learning environment, but 2020 has helped accelerate that process which we hope will equip us better to face our third decade.