Recently in Bilbao – Inside World Leisure Organization

New WLO Centre of Excellence

Aurelia Kogler and Andrew Williams

The University of Deusto was founded in 1886 by the Jesuits as one of the first private universities in Spain. At present, it is one of the most renowned Spanish universities. More than 70,000 graduates have studied here, many of whom are currently outstanding figures in the economic, political and cultural world in Spain. The Institute of Leisure Studies at Deusto University was established in 1988 with the aim of giving a response to all the questions arising from the environment we live in.

Deusto University applied to be recognized by WLO as a Centre of Excellence. It was evident that the University had understood not only the principle of Teaching and Research Excellence but also the requirements of WLO in this regard. WLO took the opportunity to visit the University to carry out a detailed assessment in September 2014.

The assessment team comprised two WLO Board Members with very different backgrounds. Professor Aurelia Kogler is an accomplished leisure academic and strategy consultant, Andrew Williams is a leisure operations and business consultant.

Their assessment identified six key areas which would be examined in more detail:

1. Content
The proposal was that the Centre would cover PhD, Masters and ‘undergraduate’ courses – the last of these is not currently a graduate course because the leisure study program is not fully recognized in Spain as a degree subject. Clearly there is still some work to do!  The course content embraces a broad minded approach to the subject matter which encourages exploration of new concepts and ideas. This is felt to be a great strength as it allows students to pursue topics in which they have a strong interest.

2. Quality
The University is renowned both in Spain and beyond as maintaining high standards both in research and in student teaching. In parallel with the academic standards there is a professional discipline about all they do. For example, students are required to adhere to strict schedules and completion of degrees within a limited timeframe. By setting standards in many different areas they helped create a culture which encourage the best results.

3. Organization
The University has recently changed its organizational structure to better reflect the current academic world. It is evident that this was embraced with enthusiasm as a positive and necessary step in protecting its future. Interestingly, there is a recognition at a very senior level that the changes were probably only a stepping stone towards further changes which would bring even greater effectiveness in their role as educators and researchers. This gives a reassurance that the management team at the University is both dynamic and forward thinking. There is a clear vision for the future and the University Management Team took pride in presenting themselves and their aspirations to the assessment team.

4. Finance
The Faculty exhibited a very healthy financial performance which was professionally managed by a specialist. It regularly delivered a surplus of 30% (on turnover) back to the University. As a non-profit making organization, all surplus funds are directed towards the teaching and research in line with its guiding remit established by the Jesuits.

5. Culture
The whole University, and the Institute of Leisure Studies in particular, generated a real sense of community. It acts as a team with everyone being respected for the contribution they make to the life of the University. There is also a genuine understanding that education goes beyond academic study. During the visit of the assessment team the Rector of the University invited all the international students who had enrolled that year to a reception where he personally welcomed them to the University and the City of Bilbao, making it clear that the University would make a real commitment to this phase of their lives – not just their studies. It was a powerful message and one that was clearly well received by the over 200 students who attended. Perhaps the strongest sense of their culture was visible in their desire to become a Centre of Excellence so that they could share with other Centres and grow as a result.

6. Sustainability
WLO is keen to ensure that a Centre of Excellence has the capacity to continue into the foreseeable future. Deusto gave confidence that they would achieve that without doubt. Healthy financial performance, a clear vision and strong leadership which understands the value of working as a team are all indicators that both the University and the Institute can be sustained. As further evidence, they have been overcoming numerous obstacles during their own history – and a healthy recognition that they will have to do the same in the future!

In conclusion, the assessment team found an Institute which has a real purpose in seeking to be a Centre of Excellence. It wants to use the recognition as a platform to grow in its own right but also as a trigger to share with other Centres. In reflecting on the assessment visit the team tried to identify a word or phrase which captured the experience they witnessed at the University. It came to them whilst walking through the beautiful main building after visiting the historic library and seeing the international students gathering for the welcome by the Rector. Simply ‘Inspiring’. It truly is a place to inspire students to study and learn and live. The Board of WLO unanimously approved the proposal that Deusto University become our latest Centre of Excellence. Congratulations to them!