Mindfulness Courses for Staff in Higher Education

Mindfulness Courses for Staff in Higher Education

The Oxford Mindfulness Centre has recently launched a new initiative to offer tailored mindfulness classes to staff working in the higher education setting, writes the OMC's Ruth Collins.

With the first classes being rolled out across Oxford University over the next academic year, the plan is to widen the initiative to see mindfulness being routinely offered to staff working in universities across the UK. This enterprise is in-line with the 2015 Mindful Nation UK report which states that mindfulness has an important role to play in the workplace in terms of reducing stress and anxiety and supporting resilience and good mental health. The Higher Education setting might be a particularly stressful working environment for some; research conducted by the Universities and Colleges Union (2013) reported that levels of perceived stress are significant for those employed in universities and colleges offering higher education and that the work-life balance of staff in this sector is, in general, poor.

I am delighted to have been appointed the OMC Lead for overseeing this project. Having spent much of my adult life working in a university context I can vouch for the benefits that having a regular meditation practice can bring whilst working in a busy, demanding and competitive institution. I attended my first MBCT course a couple of years after arriving at Oxford 14 years ago. As I pursued training to become an MBCT teacher I became aware of the need for such a resource amongst my colleagues. With this in mind and with support from the Oxford Learning Institute, I began offering classes specifically geared to the needs of staff, university wide, in 2012.

A healthier, more mindful, Higher Education institution holds the potential to benefit all.

Over the years members of staff from all echelons of the University have attended the courses; from porters to astrophysicists, reception staff to senior research fellows. I have been moved and inspired by participants’ open-hearted willingness to not only commit to a meditation practice but to share with their colleagues their often very personal reasons for attending. This honest exchange of experience, swapping of stories and comparing of notes has helped staff at all levels to recognise that, regardless of role, the challenges of working in a higher education institute are pretty much the same for everyone. This is both heartening and normalising for those who attend.

The OMC has now taken over the role of expanding provision of mindfulness within Oxford University with the remit of broadening access across the UK Higher Education network. It will offer training and support to qualified or aspiring mindfulness teachers who would like to offer mindfulness in their own academic institution. The courses are based on the MBCT Finding Peace in a Frantic World curriculum developed by Mark Williams and Chris Cullen. This curriculum is particularly well-suited to a busy workplace placing emphasis on the development of skills needed for managing the stresses and anxieties of working life as well as techniques for developing resilience and managing healthy relationships, through practices that everyone can fit into their daily schedule.

My OMC colleague Oli Bazin is supporting me with this remit. I am helping him with the development of the Centre’s provision of student mindfulness, initially at Oxford but with plans to expand across the whole University sector. Concerns about student mental health are widely acknowledged and Galante et al.’s recently published research demonstrating the significant impact of a mindfulness intervention with students at Cambridge University is evidence of the importance of mindfulness for students and also of the need for mindfulness for the staff who support them. A healthier, more mindful, Higher Education institution holds the potential to benefit all.

The following quotations are from previous participants in workplace mindfulness courses at the University of Oxford:

“I have found this course to be extremely valuable and don’t think the importance of investing in staff welfare should be under-estimated.”

“Really helpful in dealing with the stress of working in an academic post at Oxford University.”

“Extremely helpful in learning to cope with professional and personal stress, this course should be part of the induction for any new members of OU Staff.”

‘Excellent course! My line manager suggested I attend and since the course started has commented on how much more content and less stressed I am at work.”