Brains and Brawn

ARTHUR JEFFRET: the University should recognize that sport is an important part of student welfare.

Headlines have blazed across The Tab this week as the University  and Trinity College splashed the cash.  Cambridge announced the next great 800th year anniversary project; the ambitious plan will save an estimated £100,000 per annum in costs and provide special facilities for housing sensitive electron microscopes, no doubt allowing some of the finest minds in the world the opportunity to make real, serious and potentially influential breakthroughs in their field.  With this I have no problem.  Trinity College have bought one of the country’s most recognisable structures in a clear money making opportunity for one of the country’s biggest landowners and with this I have no problem either.  The problem I have is that the University’s investment comes at the expense of its students.  

Universities have two main functions, firstly that of teaching and secondly that of research; many pioneering projects, conducted using the facilities of the University of Cambridge, have changed every day life of the global citizen, for example consider the impact of Watson and Crick’s discovery of the double helix structure of DNA.  Cambridge is ranked the number 1 University in the UK because it prides itself on academia, both in teaching and research.  Cambridge aims to partner its ‘chosen few’ undergraduates and graduates (or rather those lucky enough to apply to the right college at the right time and be preferred to the thousands of other straight-A-students) with the leading minds in each field; to tax our brains to their potential as never utilised at school.  Therefore Cambridge’s focus is on our brain.  Despite the fact that a large proportion of these students try their best to diminish brain power several times a week by knocking back Apple VKs in Cindies and Life.  

It was the ancient philosophers who first explored the relationship between mind (soul) and body, most notably Aristotle, Plato and Lucretius.  Plato argued that, as the body is from the material world, the soul is from the world of ideas and is thus immortal. He believed the soul was temporarily united with the body and would only be separated at death, when it would return to the world of Forms.  Lucretius is easier for the modern audience to comprehend as he argued that everything was made up of tiny atoms, invisible to the human eye.  Thus each person is made up of an individual and unique arrangement of atoms, which if disturbed by death results in nothingness.  Therefore the mind cannot function without the body and nor the body without the mind – that is to say one cannot function without the other and they are inextricably linked.  It is from this principle that I will continue. 

Science (research generated from institutions such as Cambridge) has proven that a healthy body creates a healthy mind, thus academic potential can only be reached by creating a healthy environment for the brain.  This is where the University and I fail to see eye to eye and their stand on not funding the building of a new sports centre loses whatever credibility it has.  Despite the fact planning permission has been in place the University have always been reluctant to fundraise this building and now have stated that they are looking for an individual sponsor/donor to come forward with half the money, which they will then match from the fundraising.  The initial sum required is thought to be £20million pounds, or in other words £40million in total.  Hang on, haven’t the University just found £46million for another laboratory; and Trinity £24million for the Millennium Dome?  Trinity we can probably excuse as it would be very hard to recoup financial investment in a sports centre in returns, however that said, I don’t know any athlete in Cambridge who would mind training at the “University of Cambridge ‘Trinity College’ Sports Centre”.  But the University do not get away that easily.

The University is neglecting its lifeblood, the students, leaving their mental and physical well-being at risk.  No-one is capable of working 12 hours a day in the library without taking a break, and the release of endorphins through exercise is proven to be one of the best ways to boost brain activity.  Furthermore why don’t the University give their students the chance to really shine on the sports field by providing them with facilities suitable for a first class institution?  The student body is not asking for World Class facilities, only those that everyone can use them and without too much disrespect, anything is probably better than Phoenician Fenners and its cramped and small sports hall.  Furthermore the University will be able to pay the running costs from the money the sports centre will generate from college teams, gym membership and from the public who should be allowed to use the facilities in the holidays and if they are not used by University teams during quiet periods.  So perhaps Cambridge should look at it this way, by spending £40millions they are safeguarding the well-being of generations of minds and unlocking their potential both in sport but also in the classroom.      

As discussed the mind is affected by environmental factors such as the condition of the body but also psychological factors such as stress, pressure, tiredness and anxiety.  The University Counselling Service is permanently oversubscribed as students crumble and crack under the pressure and intensity of the Cambridge term.  As well as academic issues a frequent problem is money as students constantly worry about staying afloat and being able to afford ‘books’ and food.  This is no more sorely felt than by Cambridge’s sports teams as with no central provision for sport it is the students who are met with the costs.  As already frequently documented each athlete spends on average a couple of hundred pounds a year in meeting training expenses, such as paying to use the pool at Kelsey Kerridge and getting to and from BUCS matches and other competitions, sometimes as far away as St Andrews and Aberystwyth.  Once again such anxieties pile up on the students mind, detracting it from academic interest and optimum performance levels.  Building a sports centre then, would help ease the psychological anxiety which affects the student population of Cambridge and give our sports teams the chance to be even better.  In fact if the University were sensible enough to combine it with a library facility I would bet it would be the most frequented University building. 

And what’s more, for the hard-working student body the University might just find that it saves them about £100,000 a year in operating costs.