Healthy Universities: Whole University Leadership for Health, Wellbeing and Sustainability

Healthy and Sustainable Settings Unit

The aim of this research was to facilitate higher education institutions in securing the leadership necessary to implement a whole university approach to health, wellbeing and sustainability.

The objectives were:

  • To explore vice-chancellors’ and network members’ understanding of and commitment to a whole university approach to health, wellbeing and sustainability.
  • To explore network members’ perspectives on and experiences of senior-level leadership for Healthy Universities.
  • To examine the potential of the Okanagan Charter to serve as a catalyst to whole university leadership and change.
  • To develop a guide for developing and securing effective leadership for Healthy Universities.

Multiple methods were used, including semi-structured interviews and focus groups with vice-chancellors and UK Healthy University Network members. Online questionnaires explored the views of people outside the UK. Data were subjected to a thematic analysis in two phases taking an inductive-deductive approach.

Analysis of the data identified six key themes, which were presented in the Final Report:

  • responsibility for health and wellbeing
  • understanding and framing of health
  • understanding of ‘whole university approach’
  • securing and maintaining effective senior-level leadership
  • awareness of and engagement with Okanagan Charter
  • potential role of UK Healthy University Network.

The report also included a diagrammatic guide to securing effective high-level leadership for Healthy Universities has been formulated and a set of five case studies illustrating different approaches taken in UK and non-UK universities.

Key conclusions were:

  • The Healthy Universities approach was understood to be underpinned by a whole university approach, which resonated strongly with the emphasis on the whole institution increasingly advocated by Universities UK and other key organisations within the sector.
  • Effective, authentic and credible senior-level leadership was understood to be a pre-requisite for the successful implementation of a Healthy University initiative, and a key features of such leadership were identified. Alongside a number of challenges, including the large-scale and complex nature of universities, respondents identified opportunities to secure senior-level leadership such as advocating health to be a named responsibility within a senior leader’s role and aligning Healthy Universities work with core priorities and strategic planning cycles.
  • In discussing the Okanagan Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges, members of both UK and other national networks highlighted its inspirational nature and the significance of its international status in engaging senior-level buy-in.

Flowing from the research, specific recommendations were made for senior-level leaders, members of Healthy University networks and for the UK Healthy University Network.