Is your university healthy?

Prof Sue Powell, Co-Chair, Manchester Met Uni, and Prof Mark Dooris, Co-Chair, Central Lancashire Uni, introduce the UK Healthy Universities Network

What is a Healthy University?

A Healthy University seeks to create an organisational culture and learning, working and living environment that supports the wellbeing of staff, students and the wider community – thereby enhancing its institutional performance and productivity (1). This whole system approach is embedded into the Okanagan Charter for Health Promoting Universities (2015). This charter provides a global framework to guide and inspire action, reflecting the latest concepts, processes and principles relevant to the Health Promoting Universities and Colleges movement (2).

There is a growing commitment in UK higher education institutions in taking this ‘whole university’ and ‘whole system’ approach, the effectiveness of which has been demonstrated in studies, reviews and guidance from organisations such as the Coalition for Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition (3).

Recent research (4) suggests that the healthy university, whole system approach is characterised by three commitments:

1. Developing an ethos, organisational culture, and learning, working, living environments that support and enhance, wellbeing, sustainability and community connectedness

– agree values that underpin the university and its activities

– map and harness what’s working well across the institution

– identify gaps and work to fill them

– recognise that the university operates in the context of a wider system

2. Embedding health into every aspect of the university’s business

 – make health a key consideration in all policies, services, activities and developments

 – appreciate the value of connecting different thematic areas of work and agendas

 – knitting together disparate activities across silos, thereby helping everyone see that they contribute to the bigger picture

3. Focusing on the whole population – promoting the health and wellbeing of students, staff and the wider community while addressing the needs of different sub-populations 

 – balancing top-down leadership and direction with bottom-up engagement, ownership and action

 – considering how the university is part of its locality and how it impacts outside of itself

There are now more than 80 HEIs where whole systems approach is being used to tackle health challenges and the promotion of wellbeing

“There is a growing commitment in UK higher education institutions in taking this ‘whole university’ and ‘whole system’ approach.”

The UK Healthy Universities Network

The UK Healthy Universities Network was established in 2006 and now has representation from 83 UK HEIs – 68 in England, two in Northern Ireland, eight in Scotland and five in Wales. Also, 16 Non-UK HEIs and 26 stakeholder groups are members. The Network’s vision is to build a strong movement of HEIs committed to creating health-enhancing cultures and environments; enabling people to achieve their full potential; and contributing to the wellbeing of individuals, communities and the planet. It is voluntary and unfunded, and currently co-chaired and co-ordinated by the University of Central Lancashire and Manchester Metropolitan University.

Network meetings and themed learning sessions are held twice a year in locations across the UK and offer the opportunity for members to discuss current issues and support one another and inform national developments. Newsletters and email updates/information requests support networking in-between meetings and
the Network website provides a wealth of online information and resources (, including:

●  Toolkit

 – Guidance packages

 – Case studies and templates

 – Self-review tool

●  Regular network updates via newsletter/news feed.

●  Minutes and presentations from previous UKHUN meetings

● Information on national projects, reports and other publications available for universities interested in taking a whole university approach to health and wellbeing.

●  Journal articles

●  Examples of university strategies and plans

The self-review tool has been of particular interest to Network members. An evaluation of this tool suggest (5) that it has been useful in catalysing cross-silo-communication and facilitating a reflective self-assessment process to enhance impacts for students, staff and the wider community. It has six sections for consideration; leadership and governance; service provision; facilities and environment; communication, information and marketing; and academic, personal, social and professional development. Upon completion, it provides a red, amber, or green rating for each section which can then be used to focus actions.

For more information about the UK Healthy Universities Network and its resources visit 

1. Dooris, M., Cawood, J., Doherty S. & Powell, S. (2010) Healthy Universities: Concept, Model and Framework for Applying the Healthy Settings Approach within Higher Education in England. Final Project Report. London. Royal Society for Public Health.
2. Okanagan Charter: An International Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges (2015). International Health Promoting Universities and Colleges, Kelowna, British Columbia.
3. Langford, R., Bonell, C., Jones, H., Poulliou, T., Murphy, S., Waters, et al (2014) The WHO health promoting school framework for improving the health and well-being of students and their academic achievement. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 4, CD008958
4. Dooris, M., Powell, S. & Farrier, A. (2018) Healthy Universities: Whole University Leadership for Health, Wellbeing & Sustainability. London: Leadership Foundation for Higher Education/Advance HE.
5. Dooris, M., Farrier, A., Doherty, S., Holt, M., Monk, R. & Powell, S. (2016) The Healthy Universities Self-Review Tool: Whole System Impact. Health Promotion International: 33(3): 448-457.
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