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  • Bielefeld School of Public Health

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General Orientation of the School of Public Health

The primary concern of health sciences / public health is to further improve the basic conditions for maintaining the health of all population groups and to reduce the prevalence of disease and its potential consequences. The School of Public Health is interdisciplinary, uniting the diverse scientific and methodological approaches of its members and promoting lively exchanges between the disciplines involved. The principal scientific and thematic focal points reflect the particular specialist expertise of the various working groups within the Faculty. At the same time, they form the framework for addressing urgent societal issues around health and disease.

The Faculty constructs theories, develops methodologies and conducts problem-oriented research on the causes, determining factors and consequences of health and disease in all aspects of health sciences / public health. Issues related both to healthcare systems and to populations are taken into consideration. The development of new methods and concepts is vital in order to be able to react flexibly to new research requirements. The Faculty is also committed to applying its knowledge internally, with the aim of creating a health-promoting work environment.

Health sciences / public health are highly relevant to both practice and policy. Against this backdrop, the Faculty maintains close contacts with local, regional, and international healthcare institutions. The resulting contractual partnerships have proved to be very important for the problem-oriented focus of teaching and research. In this regard, the successful transfer of practice to theory and of theory to practice is a central concern.

The Faculty's approach to teaching public health stays true to the interdisciplinary nature of the subject. We see teaching and learning as a mutual process based on continuous exchange; new approaches to teaching are developed, tested and deliberated upon, together with students and other teachers. Our aim is twofold: to transmit specialized and professional knowledge and methods and to impart key skills, such as self-directed lifelong learning, communication and teamwork and the ability to reflect responsibly and critically on healthcare systems.

The Concept of Health
Health, as understood in health sciences / public health, is aligned with a positive definition/understanding of health. Drawing on the basic concept of salutogenesis, we view both health and disease merely as endpoints on an imagined health-disease continuum. In this context, the term "public health" emphasizes the focus on the health burdens and needs of the population as a whole and of social subgroups. We take a holistic approach and assume that the physical, psychological and social dimensions of health and disease are inextricably linked, as are their influencing factors.

By virtue of the numerous areas of work and activities that are associated with the concept of health and health-related issues, work in this field is necessarily interdisciplinary. Consequently, the key feature of health sciences / public health, unlike many other academic disciplines, is their interdisciplinary orientation. The disciplines involved include population sciences, biology, epidemiology and statistics, management sciences, medicine, ecology, pedagogy, nursing sciences, psychology, social sciences, sociology and economics; other disciplines may also be called on, depending on the question under investigation.

Subject Areas
Health sciences / public health are concerned with the possibilities for improving the health of the population as a whole. Key areas of action include the coordination of and cooperation in health promotion, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and care in all areas of healthcare and across institutional boundaries. Practical health promotion and disease prevention programs, adapted to needs and attuned to behaviors and circumstances, problem-oriented proposals for health system design, as well as the development and implementation of management and evaluation practices based on theoretical models all contribute to more effective and efficient healthcare.

Health sciences / public health are guided by the notion of health promoting environments, in which health and well-being are supported in a targeted way through appropriate measures and options, while impairments of well-being, including disease processes and their negative consequences, are minimized. At the same time, a further important goal is to improve the basic social, environmental and economic conditions for healthy living.
From these primary objectives, several sub-objectives can be derived:

  • Reducing the negative impact of social inequality on health and disease
  • Increasing gender- and age-related equity in health care
  • Improving the health status of vulnerable populations
  • Prioritizing health promotion and prevention over disease treatment
  • Planning and providing health services for all that are adapted to demand and needs
  • Prioritizing rationalization over rationing
  • Encouraging the involvement of the population in health-related issues and support / activation in the design of lifestyles and living environments that can have lasting and positive effects on health
  • Permanent review and qualitative development of health-related services
  • Promoting evidence-based health-related procedures and interventions.

Social and Economic Relevance
The public health system is one of the most dynamic, employment-intensive and financially important sectors in the economy, which is characterized by the concentration and globalization of economic power. The close focus of our work on fundamental ethical and social policy principles is therefore of particular importance to the Faculty. Advocacy of a health-related rather than a disease-oriented perspective in the overall health system, as well as in all areas of life and social (sub-) systems, is as important as our commitment to equal opportunities in health. This approach enables us to meet the demand for teaching and research in health sciences and public health that is realistic and of relevance to both practitioners and policymakers.

Target audiences
The target audiences for health sciences / public health encompass all the healthcare professions, including individuals and institutions directly or indirectly involved in the organization and provision of healthcare. Health sciences / public health also target individuals and institutions responsibly engaged in the creation of health-relevant spaces and the promotion of healthy lifestyles. For us, the general population is one of the indirect target audiences. By making a wide range of high-quality information publicly available, we empower individuals to make independent and responsible health decisions and to shape the basic conditions for healthy living.

We feel it is our responsibility to apply our understanding of the factors that promote health directly to our own faculty and staff. By creating a health-promoting working environment, we hope to ensure and preserve our employees’ long-term physical, mental and social health and well-being. Employees who are ill and / or recovering from illness or injury receive comprehensive support aimed at reintegrating them into the work process.

Equality and Responsibility
The Faculty aligns itself with the fundamental ideals of solidarity and partnership. In all arenas, there is a right and a duty to engage in co- and self-determination and in co- and self-responsibility. Employees and students identify with the Faculty’s principles and objectives and work together to create a working, teaching and learning space based on the model of a "health-promoting university". This includes the Faculty's commitment to equal rights and equal opportunities and inclusion, regardless of age, sex, sexual identity, nationality, religion, social status, skill, health restriction or disability. In addition, we endeavor to optimize our workflows, so as to facilitate a healthy work-life balance.

Social Interaction
The Faculty’s employees bring with them a range of biographies, scientific ideals, objectives and interests. We approach all our colleagues positively and with tolerance and respect; we strongly oppose any form of discrimination. A climate of openness and mutual trust helps all faculty members to participate in the work process according to their abilities and skills and to help shape everyday social cohesion. A positive working atmosphere is the shared responsibility of all colleagues.

Democratic Decision-Making
All members of the Faculty commit themselves to fulfilling the tasks involved in self-administration by sitting on committees. As in all other areas, decisions and resolutions are based on fundamental democratic principles and a set of rules. We contribute to the reduction of hierarchical structures by delegating the greatest possible responsibility to the lowest possible level.

Interdisciplinary Cooperation
As members of an interdisciplinary faculty, we consider all scientific disciplines, as represented by the various working groups, to be equivalent. The same applies to the working groups themselves. The Faculty thrives on cooperation with non-university practical training institutions as well as with university and external scientific institutions. Cooperation on scientific disciplines across institutional and geographical borders is a high priority for the Faculty in addressing health-related problems.

Promoting Skills and Performance
The Faculty is dedicated to developing, supporting and promoting its employees’ potential. High-quality work in all the Faculty’s divisions is our benchmark. Above-average performance by all faculty members is especially valued. In all our working groups, young academics are given particular encouragement and support, and working group heads assume responsibility for ensuring that young academics are given the time and structural conditions required to progress in their careers. This includes the opportunity for all faculty members to participate regularly in further education and training courses.

Exchanges with Alumni
Our former students are a pivotal link between practice and research. With their experience and networks, alumni represent an important resource for the Faculty. We therefore maintain intensive contacts with our alumni through a graduate network and the inclusion of alumni in career guidance measures and teaching.

National and International Partnerships
The Faculty has a number of local and supra-regional partnerships with various healthcare institutions that are vital for application- and problem-oriented research and teaching. These partnerships are actively maintained, e.g. through joint research and teaching programs. Within the consecutive degree programs, our partners are available to supervise projects and doctoral theses. The two-way relationship between theory and practice ensures a win-win situation that benefits all participants and is of great importance for the qualitative development of our work. We maintain relationships with a large number of international partners, both practitioners and researchers. In order continuously to build on and expand these partnerships, the faculty is, for example, an active member of the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region (ASPHER).

Our Research – The Fundamentals
The Faculty constructs theories, develops methodologies and conducts problem- and application-oriented research on the development and maintenance of good health and the causes, determining factors and consequences of disease in all aspects of health sciences / public health. Current issues relating to health systems and populations, ideally arising out of practical situations, form the core of our research. On this basis, we identify and analyze pressing public health problems and develop proposals for solutions. The range of potential research topics includes:

  • demographic and epidemiological change, including the growing importance of chronic diseases and new requirements for prevention and health promotion as well as arrangements for long-term care;
  • social inequality in health opportunities at both national and international levels;
  • local and regional inequality in access to health services and facilities;
  • new health-related developments as a result of the gradual differentiation and diversification of society, i.e. through internal as well as transnational migration and refugee flows;
  • deficits in efficacy and efficiency in many areas of healthcare;
  • the continuing underestimation of the value of prevention and health promotion in both the political sphere and the wider society;
  • new and reemerging health risks resulting from global climate change;
  • targeted health communication to support evidence-based decisions;
  • the increasing strain on health due to changes in the world of work;
  • an assessment of the opportunities and risks of molecular biology research and gene technology.

The development of new research methods and approaches, as well as the improvement of existing approaches, is an inherent part of this process. An issue of special concern to us is achieving maximum transparency in the various stages of research and therefore also in the preparation of research results for both specialist scientific audiences as well as for policy-makers and practitioners.

Principles of Interdisciplinary Work
Our strength lies in an interdisciplinary approach that draws on a wide range of scientific disciplines. This is clearly reflected in the topics and focus of the working groups represented in the Faculty. Our mission and objective is to nurture and promote lively and appreciative exchanges between all the disciplines involved. Freedom of research in the sense of mutual recognition of research objectives and methods is one of our fundamental principles.

Developing the Focal Points of Our Research
We seek to identify and development the socially relevant focal points of our interdisciplinary research, which are shaped by long-term strategies and the Faculty’s extensive professional expertise. We focus on current research needs and questions relevant to practice, both nationally and internationally. The focal points are developed by consensus and supported by the Faculty’s research committee.

The Principles of Good Scientific Research
Health sciences research at the School adheres strictly to central ethical principles. We respect human dignity and human rights and observe the principles of good scientific practice. Internal and external evaluation of the scientific activities is an elementary component of any research project and is carried out with suitable instruments during and after each research project.

"High-quality teaching, in terms both of specialist knowledge and pedagogic methods, is one of the University of Bielefeld’s priority objectives. (...) The teaching staff of the University of Bielefeld impart basic knowledge and in-depth specialist competencies as well as scientific modes of thinking and working. By setting challenging tasks, they encourage students to engage actively with both subject-specific content and overarching issues. They offer assistance in coping with subject-specific requirements and make assessment criteria transparent. They support students in developing their own academic interests and career prospects. They develop creative teaching and learning ideas and take into account the opportunities digitalization offers to improve teaching and learning."

The School of Public Health is also committed to this standard. One of our important responsibilities is to provide high-quality teaching. The Faculty is open to pedagogic developments arising out of digitalization. Digitalization is understood as a tool to (better) achieve teaching and learning goals and to enable us to deal with large numbers of students (e.g. via eLearning).

Young colleagues in particular are keen to seize the initiative and train in university teaching early in their careers. The Faculty feels obliged to support these initiatives and to create a culture that facilitates exchanges among teaching staff with regard to both subject content and teaching methods, not least in order to achieve a common understanding of quality criteria. The formulation of challenging tasks – even in the early phases of degree programs - is part of the Faculty’s responsibility in this area.

The Faculty promotes debate and agreement on teaching-related quality standards across working groups and hierarchical levels. This also includes the question of how the already formulated criteria (e.g. for the evaluation of written work) are interpreted.

The Faculty supports the development of learning scenarios that facilitate independent and sustainable learning and reduce barriers to pedagogically demanding scenarios.

Current health science/health policy problems are integrated into teaching and, where appropriate, linked to practical examples (subject-specific competence).

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