20 December 2019

Looking at student well-being and health

Well-being and health is everyone’s business. HEFCW’s conference last month followed the summer launch by the Minister for Education of Higher Education for a Healthy Nation: Student well-being and health. As the newly appointed Widening Access and Inclusion Manager, the conference provided me with an opportunity to consider how the sector has responded to this agenda so far.

The conference provided the space to continue a national conversation about how we support staff and students’ well-being and health, including mental health in HE and share experience and practice. HEFCW also drew attention to its recently published Policy Statement on Well-being and Health in HE. Speakers provided advice, evidence and challenge as well as recognising the potential role of HE in Wales to contribute to an improved, whole university system approach to a healthier Wales.

Our HEFCW Council Chair, David Allen OBE, introduced the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, AM, who opened the conference by recognising the sector’s good work being on well-being and health. She highlighted that past remit letters from Welsh Government made specific reference to well-being. We have received strong support from the Minister, including £2m funding to enhance the availability of well-being and health support for students in higher education. This has contributed towards our support of five collaborative, innovative projects to improve well-being and health and share practice.

Throughout the day, Professor Steve West CBE, shared insights from the implementation of the University of West England’s Mental Wealth Strategy, which was followed by Professor Mark Dooris challenging institutions to develop both whole university and whole system approaches. Clare Budden from Clwyd Alyn championed different systems leadership to secure effective partnership working, while John de Pury focused on improving outcomes in HE through an inclusive approach. In the afternoon, a panel discussion, including representatives from Bridgend College, UCAS, Advance HE and NUS Wales, considered progression and success, including a focus on data to inform strategic planning.

It was clear from the conference that all universities are actively engaged in helping students reach their full potential and this involves more than simply a focus on academic success. Universities can, and many do, provide a healthy, happy and sustainable environment that benefits staff, students and local communities and contributes to civic engagement, equality of opportunity and the public good. Partnership working between different organisations at both a local, regional, Wales- and UK-wide is key to successful well-being and health in HE. This ‘joined up’ and proactive approach, both at a whole university and whole system level in Wales should encourage innovative working that leads to positive and healthy universities and colleges.

Our Chief Executive, Dr David Blaney, closed the conference by reflecting on the day’s key themes. David stressed that the event had benefitted from the insight and challenge from a diverse range of speakers and delegates from Public Health Wales, schools, further education, the third sector and students. The key point I took away is that there is no competition between universities and their partners when it comes to well-being and health, including supporting mental ill health. We all need to work collaboratively, across sectors, making the most of our enabling legislation: The Well-Being and Future Generations (Wales) Act’s goals and five ways of working to provide HEFCW, universities, students and staff with tools to support positive well-being and health experiences in HE in Wales.

Savanna Jones, Widening Access and Inclusion Manager, HEFCW