Whole system approaches to health in higher education: an evaluation of the UK Healthy Universities Network

Dooris, Mark T orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-5986-1660, Farrier, Alan orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-4989-2209, Powell, Sue and Holt, Maxine (2019) Whole system approaches to health in higher education: an evaluation of the UK Healthy Universities Network. Health Education, 119 (4). pp. 246-258. ISSN 0965-4283

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1108/HE-02-2019-0010


Purpose - This paper reports on an evaluation of the UK Healthy Universities Network, which: explored engagement of Network members; identified what members value about the Network; examined facilitators and barriers to engagement; and informed the Network’s future development.

Design/methodology/approach - The study was a two phase mixed-method study, with participants being staff from Higher Education institutions. Phase 1 involved a documentary review and an online 14-question survey (n=32). Phase 2 comprised follow-up semi-structured interviews and focus groups, conducted using Skype (n=11). These were audio recorded and transcripts were thematically analysed in a two-stage process.

Findings – A number of key themes emerged from the thematic analysis: value of network meetings and events; popularity of the Network website; increased communication and collaboration; sense of leadership offered by the Network; Interest and inclusion of an international perspective; importance of institutional support.

Research limitations/implications – Only six Universities who are involved in the network took part in Phase 2. Although a range of organisations were chosen purposively, it is possible that additional key issues at other universities were excluded.

Originality/value – The UK Healthy Universities Network is valued by its membership, particularly its biannual meetings, online presence, leadership, ethos and communication methods. Key barriers include capacity of staff to attend meetings and contribute to the Network, influenced by a lack of institutional commitment and prioritisation. Findings from the evaluation have informed a ‘refresh’ of the Network’s website and a revision of its membership structure, as well as guiding its positioning to achieve greater strategic influence.

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