Taking a holistic approach – wellbeing in higher education

Back in 2016, a YouGov survey reported that just over one-quarter of students (27 per cent) reported suffering from a mental health problem. Poor mental health can arise from a wide range of factors and it is incumbent on universities to support students where ever possible.

Rather than picking up the pieces after something has gone wrong, I believe we should focus on a more proactive approach by creating “a positive and mindful university” as Anthony Seldon described it in his occasional paper for HEPI.

At today’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Students, Nicola Dandridge will be discussing a strategy on mental health from Office for Students. This builds on a significant amount of work in recent years, not least from Student Minds, to address this issue. I am, therefore, pleased to release a new research report on behalf of GuildHE which looks at the wider issues that may affect student wellbeing in higher education providers.

Key areas

Students with good mental wellbeing will usually thrive in higher education. They are more likely to stay in a provider, academically succeed and enjoy themselves. Our research suggests that there are still significant numbers of institutions that do not have either an institutional definition or strategy for wellbeing. We recommend that institutions should develop institution-wide approaches to wellbeing, considering both preventive and positive aspects covering all areas of the student lifecycle.

Our report is based on research – both a survey and interviews with staff and students from GuildHE institutions – carried out over the past 18 months. It identifies ten areas of student life which providers can address to improve wellbeing.

The ten areas in the report include detailed recommendations around developing wellbeing strategies; creating a culture of student wellbeing; academic success; student work/life balance; sports, societies and social space; student services; accommodation; engaging all students; community participation and student finance.

Considering each of these areas in turn, and with the aid of some reflective questions at the end of each section, we hope that this report will be useful in promoting wellbeing practices.

Wellbeing in smaller institutions

Our members occupy a really important space in these wider conversations about student wellbeing. Smaller institutions mean students are able to get to know each other better, develop meaningful relationships across the provider, and create an inclusive sense of community – supporting both personal and professional development. This can have many positive effects on student wellbeing. But is not without some challenges, including limited institutional and community resources, often little or no provider-owned accommodation, and sometimes remote locations – which the report addresses.

GuildHE believes in the principle of engaging students in all decisions that affect their experience and so we are proud to have developed this report in consultation with our students’ unions and involving students in the research. We would encourage institutions that are developing wellbeing strategies to consider adopting a partnership approach to engaging their student body in discussions surrounding the strategy.

We hope that this report will add to the discussion surrounding supporting positive student wellbeing and support institutions to better engage with this vital topic.

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