Canadian universities are leading an international effort to create campuses that will improve the health and well-being of students, faculty and staff.
The University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, Memorial University, Mount Royal University, the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge are the first universities to formally adopt the Okanagan Charter: An International Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges. The charter calls on post-secondary institutions to make a commitment to health and well-being in all policies and practices.
“We are committing an additional $1 million to support well-being initiatives because people who study, work and live in environments that make healthy living a priority are happier, more successful and better equipped to handle challenges,” said UBC President Prof. Santa Ono. “I am proud of UBC and our partner universities for taking steps to strengthen our communities, both on and off campus.”
UBC and SFU led the development of the charter with international partners from post-secondary institutions, the Pan American Health Organization and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The six Canadian universities adopted the charter to inspire other institutions to follow suit, recognizing that universities and colleges can set an example as communities that promote health.
“The Okanagan Charter places well-being at the forefront of a wide range of programs and initiatives to support our university community,” said SFU President Andrew Petter. “SFU is proud to be a leader in the development of the Okanagan Charter, realizing our vision of being Canada’s most engaged university.”
Research shows that health and well-being are essential to learning, retention, productivity, satisfaction and building a sense of community. Universities and colleges are in a unique position to promote well-being through education, research, policies and practices that can be developed on campuses. The Okanagan Charter provides a common framework for universities and colleges to lead this important charge.
The newly-formed Canadian Health Promoting Universities and Colleges Network, headed by these first university signatories, is working to advance the charter and encourage health promotion on campuses across Canada and globally.
Each institution has made individual commitments to enacting the Okanagan Charter on their campuses in different ways—from campus-wide mental health strategies, to developing campus spaces that support connection and community.
As part of its commitment to the charter, UBC will invest an additional $1 million to support well-being on its Vancouver and Okanagan campuses. The funding strengthens a number of efforts already underway, including increasing mental health literacy through regular mental health first aid courses for faculty and staff members. It will also enhance initiatives to support well-being in classrooms and workspaces, and promote active lifestyles with a stationary bike study space at UBC’s Okanagan campus library and movement breaks during lectures.
The charter will advance SFU’s Healthy Campus Community initiative. SFU has been a leader in creating more supportive campus communities by building new spaces and re-designing courses with well-being in mind. Student health is critical to their capacity to learn and get the most out of their university experience. A new resilience course is helping students take ownership over their social and emotional well-being.
Presidents from the six universities will adopt the Okanagan Charter the week of Oct. 31. UBC will sign the charter during Thrive, a week-long series of events focused on building mental health for all. Thrive originated at UBC in 2009, and is now celebrated at several campuses across Canada.
More information about the Okanagan Charter here.
The Okanagan Charter was an outcome of the 2015 International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges held at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna, from June 22-25.
A charter working group with members from the UK, Chile, Ecuador, Germany, United States and Canada used an intensive development process to engage people interested in higher education from 45 countries.
Higher education leaders and delegates, including network and organization representatives, signed a pledge to bring the charter back to their settings to inspire and catalyze further action towards the creation of health promoting universities and colleges. Representatives from the World Health Organization, Pan American Health Organization, UNESCO joined in the pledge.