University Partners have already proved valuable across all of the strands of the university game within which they operate. They are driving and developing rugby union best practice in the sector alongside the RFU and providing the foundations for the future contribution of university rugby to the wider sport.
Working in partnerships of usually 2 or 3 major collaborating universities, this network will deliver from 2017-18 onwards, more opportunities for more students to play rugby through their time studying and as importantly, drive them to continue playing when they leave.
University Clusters will be the next level of the RFU delivery system in universities, targeting concentrated areas with the biggest university student populations. The RFU will introduce with the institutions in these Cluster areas, a dedicated network of people to provide a greater rugby supply-line for the demand that currently exists across the country.
Focus will not be on the top 20% of committed or star players, or on the 20% who have decided they want to try something else; but firmly on the 60% of rugby-playing students in the middle, who have played the game and given the right opportunity, will want to continue. Currently we do some good work together in this area but our insight shows we can reach far deeper into that 60% to ensure more of them have the opportunity to stay in the game.
The aim is to grow the Cluster network over the next two years to a point where the RFU University Clusters and Partnerships models account for approximately half of the rugby-playing universities in England. This is where we will focus on driving our biggest increases in participation, transition and sustainability with the sector.
The University Partners and Clusters are not exclusive of each other; there will be some cross-over, particularly in the big university cities. The Clusters will provide additionality to the Participation Development strand of the University Partnerships programme.