Myth-busting on curricular approaches to student wellbeing


Three students chatting and laughing

By Prof. Jacky Cranney, Prof. Nalini Pather, Dr Leesa Sidhu, Prof. Gary Velan

Published 19 April 2023


Some university educators are reticent to design, deliver and evaluate curricula that have specific focus on supporting student wellbeing.1

Here, we speculate as to the beliefs underlying such reticence, and whether such beliefs have credibility.

belief: “wellness” is new-age snake oil, and has no place within the rigorous context of higher education.

response: yes, there is considerable “wellness/wellbeing” snake oil out there. However, there is also a well-established and rigorous psychological science of wellbeing, that translates into curricular design and delivery.2,3

belief: “wellbeing” is the responsibility of extracurricular services (e.g., student counselling).

response: such services are invaluable; however, wellbeing is much more than “dealing with” distressed students. It is also about early intervention, prevention and enabling students to thrive.2,3,4

belief: as a discipline expert, I’m not qualified to help distressed students.

response: true, however, you can receive training on how to: (a) refer distressed students to professional support services; and (b) design and deliver curricular environments that support student academic success, a sense of belonging and wellbeing.2,3,4

belief: why don’t we just give students easy assessments (i.e., lower academic standards)? Then the students will be happy.

response: “wellbeing” does not equal fleeting feelings of pleasure – philosophers have known this for millennia. Students know that they need to expend effort (and sacrifice pleasures) to achieve their meaningful academic goals (which will lead to increased wellbeing). In doing so, they hope to be supported by well-trained, professional and ethical educators. This does not equate to 24/7 hand-holding.

belief: wellbeing-supportive strategies are “add-ons,” and my curriculum is already full.

response: such strategies are congruent with established principles of student learning and with well-constructed inclusive design. With minimal training and support, such strategies can be a seamless aspect of curricular design and delivery.2,3,4

How can you go about prioritising curricular approaches to wellbeing at your institution and in your programme/course/subject? For good places to start, see sources 2-4.


(1) Student Minds The Role of an Academic Report

(2) Enhancing Student Wellbeing

(3) UNSW Whole of University and Faculty or School approaches

(4) UK Education for Mental Health Toolkit



This article was written by Prof. Jacky Cranney, Prof. Nalini Pather, Dr. Leesa Sidhu & Prof. Gary Velan (SEA fellows and co-leaders of the Healthy Universities Initiative). It was originally posted in Campus Morning Mail as part of Prof. Sally Kift's series "What's needed now".


Scientia Education Academy Blog Series

The UNSW Scientia Education Academy (SEA) recognises our most outstanding educators for their leadership and contributions to enriching education, and gives them a platform to showcase and facilitate excellence in teaching at UNSW and beyond. Learn more about UNSW Scientia Education Academy here.


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