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Think positive: Private British institution to become Europe’s first ‘positive university’

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In an effort to tackle mental health issues among university-age youth, the University of Buckingham has decided to adopt the approaches found in ‘positive psychology’.

Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that emphasises positive rather than negative personality traits and uses scientific understanding and effective intervention to aid in the achievement of a satisfactory life.

The university announced in a recent statement that it is partnering up with U.S. psychologist Martin Seligman, the world’s leading authority on positive psychology, to help improve the well-being, resilience, and optimism of its staff and students.

Seligman had previously worked with TecMilenio University in Monterrey, Mexico, which was the world’s first ‘positive university’.

According to Seligman, who is the director of the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, psychology has placed too much emphasis on treating mental health issues, rather than finding ways to teach people the right strategies that may help them avoid such issues in the first place.

Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor 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.”

Sir Anthony explained that the positive psychology approach “ensures that the university takes responsibility for the mental health and well-being of not just students but also staff”, adding that this differs from the traditional approach in the UK, where universities are considered academic institutions first and foremost, and that the emotional, psychological, and holistic development of students are “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,” he added.

Under the new changes, lecturers will receive training in positive psychology, while students will have a module in positive psychology, focussing on Seligman’s ‘PERMA’ model: Positive relationships, Engagements, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement.

The university also aims to overcome issues that stem from lad and groupthink culture by encouraging positive peer and student-staff interactions.

For those familiar with Buckingham University, this move should come as no surprise, as the university is known for putting students’ needs first. It has topped the annual National Student Survey in student satisfaction for several years, most recently in 2016.

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