University of Buckingham to become Europe’s first Positive University

25 January 2017

Buckingham is to become Europe’s first positive university by adopting the approach of positive psychology among staff and students to enable them to be happier, feel more engaged with learning and develop a purpose in their lives while studying and beyond.

Mental health problems in Britain’s universities are at crisis point and the venture is designed to reduce the risk of students suffering.

Buckingham is following the lead of the only other positive university in the world, TecMilenio in Monterrey, Mexico and senior staff who have implemented the programme will work with Buckingham staff. Professor Martin Seligman, the world’s leading authority on Positive Psychology, who worked with TecMilenio to make it the first Positive University, flew in from the US for the launch.

Ten point action plan for The Positive University:

  1. Positive transitions – the University will maximise our understanding of the psychological needs and backgrounds of students
  2. Positive advice – every student will have a module in ‘Positive Psychology’, focussing on ‘Seligman’s PERMA’ – Positive relationships, engagements, relationships, meaning and achievement.
  3. Positive tutors – all tutors to be trained in Positive Psychology and proactive relationships.
  4. Positive relationships – all interactions and engagements with students to be conducted in a positive manner. The lad and groupthink culture is tackled.
  5. Positive mentoring – every student to have student buddies to support them, and the student body to take a major responsibility in organising and overseeing peer support.
  6. Positive engagement – working to ensure that every student forms bonds with their faculty, halls of residence and other groups to nurture a sense of belonging.
  7. Positive work skills – students are encouraged to develop the skills they will require in the workplace to help the transition to work.
  8. Positive achievement – the focus is on what students can do and what they can achieve, so they can all feel appropriate success.
  9. Positive identification – students who are manifesting problems are identified early and appropriate care and support are provided.
  10. Positive awareness – students are encouraged to be mindfully aware of their impact on others and on the state of their feelings and emotions.

Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor of The University of Buckingham, who was the first to introduce well-being in schools a decade ago when he was Master of Wellington College, said: “The core to the approach is ensuring that students are given the tools to learn to cope with themselves and with the world after university proactively, in contrast to the reactive model followed in most universities, which deals with students only after they have developed problems and or suicidal tendencies.

“Our approach ensures that the university takes responsibility for the mental health and wellbeing not just students but also staff, in contrast to the traditional approach in the UK that universities are academic institutions first and foremost, and that the emotional, psychological and holistic develop of their students is not their primary business.

“Ignorance of this field is wasting lives and causing untold misery and has to stop. The job of a good university should be to help students learn how to live a productive and meaningful life rather than just get good degrees. Universities worldwide are falling short of this.”

The University is already renowned for having happy students – it has been leading the National Student Survey (NSS) for the last decade.

There are other centres of positive psychology – University of Pennsylvania and Melbourne University – but TecMilenio is the only one in the world to have embedded it within its policies, culture and way of working.

Martin Seligman is former head of the American Psychological Association and Director of the Penn Master of Applied Positive Psychology programme (MAPP) and has written books on well-being, resilience and optimism. He is Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Centre, Pennsylvania.

Sir Anthony Seldon, co-founder of Action for Happiness and President of IPEN, the International Positive Education Network (IPEN) has turned around two schools, Wellington College and Brighton College, and is one of the UK’s leading commentators on mental health.