University and Tertiary Sport New Zealand (UTSNZ) are one step closer to establishing a sustainable sporting pathway between secondary schools and tertiary institutions.

Historically, Kiwi high-school students have not been short of sporting opportunities.

And with the number of national secondary school competitions having increased by 60 percent in the past 10 years, 13-18-year-olds now compete in more than 200 national secondary school tournaments each year.

Alongside the usual array of traditional codes, sports as diverse as AFL, curling, clay target shooting, waka ama, underwater hockey and lawn bowls, are now contested by students across New Zealand.

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The widened spectrum of sporting opportunities has seen more students enter tertiary institutions with experience in sports and the skills to play competitively.

However, a lack of sport strategies and talent development approaches for 18-24-year-olds has seen an ever-concerning decline in student participation on a tertiary-level.

But a new Memorandum of Understanding agreement, which recognises the importance of school-tertiary sport links, could change the game for the university-level sporting scene.

UTSNZ signed the three-year agreement, which strives to enable and deliver opportunities to retain school leavers in sport, with the New Zealand Secondary Schools Sports Council on Thursday.

The memorandum recognises the need for collective leadership at the national level to ensure a seamless pathway for students who wish to continue to participate, excel and advance in sport as they transition between secondary and tertiary education.

The agreement comes after the Sport and Recreation Minister, Hon Grant Robertson, defined four priorities for the sport sector - one specifically addressing the drop off in young people's participation in sport once they leave school.

The National Tertiary Championships were established as a suite of competitive inter-tertiary tournaments led by UTSNZ. Photo / UTSNZ
The National Tertiary Championships were established as a suite of competitive inter-tertiary tournaments led by UTSNZ. Photo / UTSNZ

UTSNZ executive, Sarah Anderson, believed that the lack of 'quality' sporting opportunities from tertiary institutions has contributed significantly to the decrease in participation, and said it was essential that better pathways be developed.

"There has traditionally been a lack of quality tertiary sport offerings and performance pathways for those students wishing to continue their competitive involvement," she said.

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"This, along with factors such as perceived time and money constraints for students, contributes to a widely acknowledged 'drop off' in student participation in sport at a tertiary-level."

"This drop off has ramifications for the sporting community in general, both on a mass participation and a high-performance level."

UTSNZ and its tertiary members have already made huge developments in the university sport sector by way of competition pathways and sport workforce opportunities.

The National Tertiary Championships, for example, has offered quality inter-tertiary competitions that has allowed students to participate in their chosen sport, be it as a player, coach, manager or referee.

The next UTSNZ tournament will be held in June when university students from across New Zealand compete in the badminton championships.