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Designing and Delivering the first Wellness Management Degree in the United Kingdom

Posted By Louise Buxton, BA (Hons) PGCE MA FHEA, Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2018
Originally in NWI's International Wellness Connection blog on November 28, 2017
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University of DerbyDegree programmes relating to wellness and wellbeing are not commonplace within United Kingdom (UK), those that do exist largely couple the subject of wellbeing with health.  Drawing on its expertise in spa management education, in 2016, the team from the Department of Hotel, Resort and Spa Management at the University of Derby embarked on a journey to design and develop the first degree in wellness management in the UK.  The programme that they designed, the BSc (Hons) in Wellness Management, is a three year undergraduate programme that includes an optional year of placement in professional practice. 

The University of Derby is a modern and innovative university, which gained its university status in 1992, along with many other institutions via the UK Further and Higher Education Act. The university’s focus is on industry relevant qualifications and it prides itself on the high employability rate of its graduates (97% in 2017) and its Gold rating in the UK’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
The University of Derby, over a decade ago, developed the first degree level programmes in international spa management in the UK.   Taking their knowledge, expertise and experience of spa, of which many traditions and therapeutic practices have their origins in wellness, and their focus of developing graduates with strong managerial skills, business acumen and commercial awareness,  the team set out to develop an innovative degree programme. 

Being located in the beautiful spa town of Buxton, surrounded by the Peak District National Park, provides great opportunities for the department to link with the local community and tap in to the heritage of the region. Buxton as a health and wellness destination dates back to Roman times, the Romans settled there over 2,000 years ago because of the mineral springs that bubble up from under the town.  The 18th century saw great development in the town with the building of the Crescent Hotel and the Devonshire Dome, the Dome is now the Buxton campus of the University of Derby. To this day visitors to Buxton can taste the famed mineral waters by visiting St Ann’s Well in the town centre. The Devonshire Dome was originally built as stables to house the horses of visitors to the town, subsequently it became a hospital and continued to offer hydrotherapy treatment and rehabilitation until its closure in 2000. The university bought the Devonshire Dome in 2001 and invested in a £23 million renovation project. The Dome opened as a campus in 2006, delivering degrees in spa, tourism, events, culinary arts, hospitality management, sport and outdoor leadership.

Department of Hotel, Resort and Spa ManagementThe team in the Department of Hotel, Resort and Spa Management at the University of Derby were aware of the emerging wellness sector for a number of years, seeing a greater emphasis on multi-dimensional and holistic practices in spa, and a rise in guests seeking to enhance their mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing through their spa consumption. Drawing on expertise from colleagues in spa, tourism and hospitality management, the team set out to test the idea for their new programme through initial consultation.  A series of events were arranged with local, national and international employers, plus their network of contacts and alumni.The response was overwhelmingly positive and via the consultation, themes emerged which emphasised the need for graduates to have a clear understanding of the concept of wellness and the practices that underpin the concept. Ideas and information abounded and one of the first challenges in taking the idea forward was deciding what to and not to include in the curriculum.  

In rising to the challenge the team looked to the National Wellness Institute and Dr Bill Hettler’s model of The Six Dimensions of Wellness.  Drawn from this model, the curriculum focusses on, but is not limited to: the concept of wellness, principles of mind, body and spirit and the theories that under pin wellness, including anatomy, physiology and psychology. At its core the programme has a suite of management modules including aspects of, marketing, leadership and management, finance, business planning, strategic and operational management.  Forming the core of the programme, these modules are designed to develop students’ business acumen and commercial awareness, and skills that allow them to lead in a range of supervisory and management positions.Noting that communication skills are essential and wanting students to gain skills in coaching and mentoring, so that they can have ‘wellness’ conversations, whether that be individuals about their wellbeing or companies about developing their wellness strategy, a module focussing on this was included in the second year of the programme.  One of the biggest challenges faced in curriculum design was in deciding whether or not to teach students practical wellness modalities as part of the programme.   Modalities such as yoga, tai chi and meditation were considered but the team settled on onsite massage and mindfulness as their choices.  The choices were based on the flexibility for these two practices to be delivered in a range of settings and they were included within the first year of the curriculum. It was then decided that the two areas of corporate wellness and wellness tourism would be option modules within the programme, as these may provide distinct career pathways for graduates.  

The importance of integrating knowledge from a range of disciplines and ensuring graduates were cognisant of the tenets of wellness became a strong guide in curriculum design. A highlight in the journey was concluding that the aim of the programme was:

To develop graduates with strong management and leadership skills, who promote a holistic, multi-dimensional approach to wellness and are aware of the breadth and diversity of the wellness sector.

With this aim, the intention wasto ensure graduates are lifelong learners and are equipped to take up leadership roles in areas such as: workplace wellness, community wellness, wellness tourism and wellness destinations. Exposure to professional practice was considered essential; the team concluded that students should engage in live projects throughout the programme, have the option to complete a yearlong placement between years two and three and should undertake an individual wellness management research project in their final year.  Awareness of the breadth and diversity of the wellness sector and the roles and career paths within it was also important.

Validation of the programme provided another challenge and key milestone in the programme development.   A degree validation event involves scrutiny by a panel of internal and external academics and quality managers who consider the content and design of the proposal.External representation on a validation panel is an essential quality assurance requirement and finding an academic with appropriate subject knowledge and expertise was a challenge.  After a fairly long search, an experienced panel member was found who worked on health and wellbeing ethics programmes, who was also a holistic therapist.  The external panel member fitted the role well, and was able to provide guidance to internal representatives who were unsure of the subject of the proposal put forward.After a challenging day of rigorous questioning and stimulating debate, the programme was validated and approved for delivery from September 2016.  This moment was both exciting and daunting as it brought the next challenge of recruiting students to study the programme.

Unfortunately, the programme did not recruit a sufficient cohort to run in 2016 and so the start date was postponed until 2017.   Promoting the programme through traditional undergraduate progression routes of schools and colleges, to potential students who are 16 and 17 years old proved problematic.  The team found that students of that young age did not fully understand the concept of wellness or the career opportunities within the sector, when compared to the more established subjects of tourism, hospitality and spa management.  The team recognised that they had extensive work to do to educate potential students and those who advise them of study and career choices about the opportunities in this growing sector.   

The programme began in September 2017, with a small cohort of students.  Since then the team have been eagerly working to expose students to many different wellness modalities and practices. This has included liaising with local and international organizations regarding live projects, and taking students can on a number of visits.  Firstly, students visited a destination spa in the north west of England, where they learnt about the spa’s focus on wellness and their extensive workplace wellness scheme.  Students also delivered hand and head massages as part of a wellbeing event for teachers from across the east midlands region.  One very exciting project that student have just begun, is a live workplace wellness project, which involves them evaluating a company’s support for line manager in respect of staff mental wellbeing and making recommendations for how the company can take the work forward.  Students can be see below ready to undertake a factory tour to learn about the company and gain greater insight into the working environment.

The prospect of delivering this new programme and taking the subject area forward in UK higher education is very exciting.  The team are undertaking scholarly activity and research to inform their teaching and following the recent publication of their text book, Spa Management: Principles and Practices, colleagues within the department are working together with other likeminded individuals to produce an academic journal which aligns to the spa and wellness curriculum.

So the journey continues, moving forward the team aim to grow their student numbers and are working on a recruitment plan.  Further forward the team would relish working with like-minded institutions and individuals to establish a wellness organization within UK.

To find out more about the programme, please contact Louise Buxton, Programme Leader of the BSc (Hons) in Wellness Management, at l.c.buxton@derby.ac.ukor visit the University of Derby’s website at www.derby.ac.uk

Louise BuxtonLouise Buxton is a Senior Lecturer in Spa and Wellness Management at the University of Derby in the United Kingdom.  Starting her career as a beauty therapist, Louise went on to study management, education, coaching, and mentoring at university. Louise holds an MA in Education, is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and an experienced therapist, coach, and mentor
Louise Buxton | BA (Hons) PGCE MA FHEA
Senior Lecturer | Link Tutor (Swiss Partners)
Department of Hotel, Resort and Spa Management | College of Business, Law and Social Sciences
University of Derby | LS/207 1 Devonshire Rd Buxton SK17 6RY
+44 (0)1332 594612
M: +44 (0) 7920478199


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