Dooris, Mark T and Doherty, Sharon Helen
Healthy universities—time for action: a qualitative research study exploring the potential for a national programme.
Health Promotion International, 25
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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/heapro/daq015
Despite the absence of national or international steers, there is within England growing interest in the Healthy University approach. This article introduces Healthy Universities; reports on a qualitative study exploring the potential for a national programme contributing to health, well-being and sustainable development; and concludes with reflections and recommendations. The study used questionnaires and interviews with key informants from English higher education institutions and national stakeholder organizations. The findings confirmed that higher education offers significant potential to impact positively on the health and well-being of students, staff and wider communities through education, research, knowledge exchange and institutional practice. There was strong support for extending the healthy settings approach beyond schools and further education, through a National Healthy Higher Education Programme that provides a whole system Healthy University Framework. Informants argued that although there are important public health drivers, it will also be necessary to show how a Healthy Universities can help achieve core business objectives and contribute to related agendas such as sustainability. Two models were discussed: an accreditation scheme with externally assessed standardized achievement criteria; and a flexible and light-touch framework focusing on change-related processes and utilizing self-assessment. While highlighting the appeal of league tables, many informants feared that a top-down approach could backfire, generating resistance and resulting in minimal compliance. In contrast, the majority felt that a process-focused aspirational model would be more likely to win hearts and minds and facilitate system-level change. Key recommendations relate to national programme development, research and evaluation and international collaboration and networking.
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