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COVID-19 updates for April 2020

BY UA/AU | APR 30 2020

April 30, 2020

 

Federal aid update: House passes CESB bill, CCPA crunches the numbers

The federal government just got a step closer to releasing $9 billion in emergency student aid. The Liberals’ introduced legislation in the House of Commons on Wednesday to create the Canada Emergency Student Benefit. The benefit will provide $1,250 a month from May to August to postsecondary students who have lost jobs and job opportunities due to COVID-19. (Read our coverage of the funding announcement here.)

The Globe and Mail reports that the bill passed after the government agreed to changes suggested by opposition parties, including bumping up the monthly payment to $2,000 for students who are caregivers or who have a disability (up from $1,750), as well as establishing incentives for students to take up jobs in sectors tied to “regional economic stability and food production.”

The Globe article adds that “the legislation adopted Wednesday gives the government broad powers to define the precise terms of the student programs later through regulation. In approving the bill, the government also approved a motion that provides the government with guidance on how to craft those details and also commits the government to further action.” Senate will sit on Friday to sign off on the bill.

In the meantime, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has released an analysis of the proposed CESB as it compares to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, an Employment Insurance alternative that offers $2,000 a month to Canadians who’d previously earned $5,000 before finding themselves unemployed due to the pandemic. According to the think tank, the COVID-19 crisis has led to nearly 400,000 students losing jobs or work hours, which leaves about 340,000 eligible for CERB as they lost their jobs or weren’t earning anything. Approximately 1.1 million students aren’t eligible for CERB, but many will access CESB. (The government estimates that some 1 million students will receive CESB payments.)

While the CCPA has some positive things to say about the plan’s immediate benefits, the analysis is critical of the increase in access to student loans that the aid package offers, as it means more students will take on more debt as they graduate into an uncertain workforce. The think tank also has this to say about postsecondary funding in general:

“Twenty-five years of reduced public support for postsecondary education—at both levels of governments—have left educational institutions hugely exposed. Universities used to receive more than 80 percent of their operating revenue from government. Today, government funding has shrunk to barely 50 percent and more than one-quarter now comes from tuition fees. But will students be able to afford to attend? Will international students be able to come? The steepest drop-off in September enrolments at Canadian universities may well come from this group, who pay much higher fees than Canadian students.

Getting money into the hands of students is probably the fastest way to stave off massive tuition fee hikes and lay-offs in the postsecondary sector. But what next? These programs have been brought in as one-off measures. As the economic fallout persists, young people with limited labour market experience will face huge barriers both to education and employment, particularly students from marginalized communities.”

Laurentian struggles with “COVID-19-related challenges”

If you needed proof that universities are, as CCPA says, “hugely exposed” right now, Laurentian University just released a statement claiming a shortfall of $15 million for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The university partially blames the pandemic for this financial crisis, claiming that COVID-19 has brought the university’s deficit for the current fiscal year up to $6 million (from about $1 million pre-pandemic). Laurentian was the first Canadian university to cancel all in-person classes in March.

“If we don’t take action, the combination of a potential enrolment drop, our pre-existing financial challenges and new impacts of COVID-19, could be the tipping point that threatens the financial viability of the university,” says Laurentian president Robert Haché. Most of the “action” proposed in the press release relates to employment: a hiring freeze, elimination of vacant positions and contract reductions. The university will also “suspend all non-essential operating expenses.”

Funding for research on mental health, substance use and COVID-19

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research have launched two new funding opportunities for research on mental health and substance use during the current global health crisis. Long periods of physical distancing and social isolation, school closures, unemployment, and reduced social services have put a strain on mental-health and substance-use supports. These competitions, part of the government’s rapid-response research funding package, are looking for new ways to adapt and grow Canada’s mental health system in response to the restrictions and growing need caused by the global pandemic.

The first competition is an operating grant for “rapid knowledge synthesis” that could lead to evidence-based policy advice about mental health supports and interventions. “This funding opportunity will enable the development of rapid and timely knowledge syntheses and related knowledge mobilization plans to address evidence gaps and build the evidence base as part of the mental health and substance use response to COVID-19.” This competition will award up to 40 grants at a maximum of $50,000 for six months (a total of $2 million has been earmarked). The deadline for applications is May 7.

The second competition is an operating grant that will allow “the Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse to undertake urgent activities related to COVID-19 and mental health and substance use guidelines.” Projects funded through this competition should address the specific and varied needs of people who use drugs and those in recovery from or seeking treatment for substance-use disorders. A total of up to $1 million for one year is available. The deadline for applications is May 1.

The funding notice also included a call for submissions to the federal government’s “Linkage Tool for the COVID-19 Rapid Response Funding.” Researchers, health-care professionals, and organizations interested in collaborating on COVID-19 Rapid Response Funding projects can submit information to a shared table that is updated twice daily.

Something nice: Team Canada fights COVID-19

The Olympics may have been cancelled this year, but that doesn’t mean Team Canada is taking a break. Team Canada has collected profiles of several Canadian Olympians and elite professional athletes working on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Some of the many athletes featured are: figure skater Joannie Rochette, a 2010 bronze medallist, who earned her medical degree from McGill University last week and promptly signed up to work at a long-term care facility; similarly, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, also a medical graduate from McGill, followed up a recent Super Bowl win with a job in a long-term care facility in Montreal; curler Susan O’Connor won silver in 2010 and has been a respiratory therapist in Calgary for the past 20 years; and Olympic swimmer Heather MacLean is a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

April 29, 2020

 

Any postdocs in the house?

The Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars has launched a survey to find out how postdocs are faring in Canada during the COVID-19 crisis. The association says the results will be compiled into a report for funding agencies, postsecondary institutions and “other stakeholders.”

Complete the survey here.

Public events address global response to COVID-19

Several postsecondary institutions are hosting virtual public discussions on Thursday, April 30 about the impacts of COVID-19 beyond Canada’s borders.

McGill University will bring together five international health experts for a conversation about how the pandemic is affecting the world’s most vulnerable populations. Experts from the World Health Organization, Université de Montréal, Columbia University, Harvard Medical School and the World Bank will also discuss the challenges facing frontline workers, effective global responses and international aid live on YouTube.

The Canada-Caribbean Institute, co-founded by Brock University and the University of the West Indies, will host a discussion about the role of migrant agricultural workers in the Canadian economy and the economies of their home countries during this time of global crisis. According to Brock, some 55,000 seasonal agriculture workers come to Canada to work each year. They are considered essential workers and are among those who are exempt from Canada’s international travel bans. Researchers from both universities will discuss the hardships that migrant workers will face in light of the pandemic. The deadline to register for the Zoom event is today, Wednesday, April 29.

Balsillie School of International Affairs – a collaboration between the Centre for International Governance Innovation, the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University – is launching Global Insights, a weekly series of moderated panel discussions about international policy, research and planning related to COVID-19. This week’s instalment, “COVID-19: Stress-test for the Global Economy,” will feature researchers from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Ethiopia. Participants must register through Eventbrite.

Campus career centres pivot

Classes aren’t the only thing that moved online in March. University career centres transitioned their regular services, like career counselling, job fairs and resume workshops, to online formats, too. But they’ve also come up with some new offerings to help students and other clients through a particularly challenging employment crisis. From guides on government financial aid to virtual support groups for job-seekers and new grads, some career offices are emphasizing their roles as support centres.

Survey asks PSE’s IT pros, How are you doing?

IT teams are the unsung heroes of higher-ed’s transition to online learning. They’ve had to roll out a massive amount of new tools and support in the past two months and troubleshoot as they go. EDUCAUSE, a community of IT professionals in the postsecondary sector, wondered how these teams faring through it all. After conducting a quick poll, they found that most IT professionals are working from home (only about 10 percent have to go to campus to complete some work); most haven’t seen their work duties change very much, though their workloads have increased; and the majority find this new situation emotionally difficult (“overall life satisfaction has worsened for about 41 percent [of respondents]”). On the plus side, about 30-35 percent also reported that their “commitment to faculty, staff, and students and their loyalty to their institution has improved.”

The survey summary (which includes much more data that we’ve written about here) ends with this hopeful thought:

“The higher education technology workforce is no monolith. Everyone has unique circumstances, gifts, and challenges. Today’s stresses are bringing some people to the edge of despair and some institutions to the brink. Yet the seeds of the future have been planted. As individuals and institutions eventually emerge from the current crisis, all will have an opportunity to create more flexible, caring, and collaborative workplaces and more innovative, focused, and agile institutions. The seeds will germinate if we tend to them.”

Something nice

Travis Samuel, a professional cyclist and Trent University student, broke a Guinness World Record for indoor cycling. After 24 hours, the 25-year-old had completed a 1,008-kilometer ride! The cyclist and his teammates raised more than $210,000 for the Michael Garron Hospital Foundation to provide the necessary equipment to support frontline health-care workers.

April 28, 2020

 

Academic labs to reopen in Quebec

On Monday, Quebec Premier François Legault revealed the province’s plan to reopen businesses and relax lockdown measures. As part of the plan, some academic research will be allowed to restart as soon as this week. According to Le Devoir, a message from the provincial government to postsecondary institutions on Sunday stated that research in the fields of health, natural sciences, agriculture, forestry, engineering and some emergency seasonal work may start up “effective immediately.” It also said priority should next be given to activities that will directly help the province’s efforts to reopen.

It will be up to individual institutions to figure out how and when to restart campus activities, including research, while adhering to public health measures like physical distancing.At McGill University, which already has several labs open for COVID-related research, a slow and steady approach seems to be the message around reopening for other research activities: “The university is actively planning how to best facilitate and coordinate the progressive ramp-up, in compliance with forthcoming government directives, while ensuring the health, well-being, and safety of our community. We will communicate details shortly as they become known.”

Polytechnique Montréal, meanwhile, stated that it will aim to grant partial access to research labs as soon as May 4. The university said this return to work would be gradual and in line with public health requirement and guidelines provided by the Robert Sauvé Institute for workplace health and safety research in partnership with the Office for University Cooperation (in French, the Bureau de coopération interuniversitaire, or BCI). The university also noted that although faculty members and students will soon return to labs, this will not mean a relaxing of lockdown measures for the rest of campus. Like McGill, the institution will confirm by the end of this week any details about the return to work.

As for a return to classrooms, the province has stated clear goals for primary and middle grades – elementary schools and daycares will open on May 19 with voluntary attendance – but the situation is less clear for postsecondary institutions, where campuses will remain closed to the public until at least late August.

Maple League eases credit transfer requirements

The four member universities of the Maple League have signed a memorandum of understanding that relaxes the rules around credit transfers. The new agreement, which takes effect in time for this year’s spring/summer term, allows students at Acadia University, Mount Allison University, St. Francis Xavier University and Bishop’s University to take online or in-person courses from any of these institutions without requiring permission from their home university or paying additional fees. Course codes and credits will be automatically applied to the student’s degree requirements. The MOU has been in the works for 18 months, but the pandemic hastened the agreement.

NB opens intersession university courses to Grade 12 students

The province of New Brunswick has opened intersession courses at publicly-supported universities to graduating Grade 12 students. Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Trevor Holder said this decision will help incoming students ease the transition to higher education at a time when instruction, orientation, student success and admissions activities are happening remotely.

“Our universities are offering a valuable opportunity to students wishing to kick-start their first year and I encourage students looking for an extra challenge to explore this option,” he said.

The University of New Brunswick will offer skills-building and transition courses as well as more than 40 introductory courses that can be applied to degree requirements. St. Thomas University will offer incoming students access to courses in biology, political science and human rights. Université de Moncton has developed new courses for intersession. And Mount Allison University will offer 20 courses, as well as “virtual academic support services, such as academic advising, peer tutors, and the university’s writing resource centre.”

Academica releases part two of StudentVu survey

Academica has released the second set of results of StudentVu, a survey on how the pandemic is affecting postsecondary students and applicants. The first set of results focused on prospective students while part two looks at current students. The majority of respondents, 61 percent, said they would return to school in the fall, regardless of course-delivery format. Drilling down into those stats, however, there is a difference between university and college participants: 65 percent of university students said they would return in the fall even if courses will be delivered online only, compared to 49 percent of college students who said the same.

Academica suggests the hesitation can be attributed to a student’s pre-pandemic familiarity with online learning: “Prior to COVID-19, only half of all surveyed students had participated in any form of online or distance education (50 percent), a figure that was slightly higher among university students than college students (53 percent vs 44 percent). In short, the move to online learning this term was the first experience many students, especially college students, had with online education.” The biggest concern expressed about online learning was maintaining focus and motivation.

A full summary of results is available on Academica’s website.

Research on pandemic communication

A researcher at the University of Alberta is seeking participants for a study on how Canadians are keeping in touch during the pandemic. Speech-language pathologist Andrea MacLeod is looking into the impact of video chats, virtual events and other remote communications on a person’s health and well-being. Ultimately, she hopes to develop suggestions for communication strategies suited to each population group. “We want to better understand the nuances of communication and language. The tools and context matter more than we think. Strategies that work with grandparents may not work with siblings or friends,” she explained. The survey is online now.

Something nice: Arkells serenade Class of 2020

McMaster University alumni Max Kerman and Mike DeAngelis, bandmates from Arkells, gave a surprise serenade to a graduating student from their alma mater. The musicians showed up on Ava Harrison’s front lawn posing as graduation photographers. Ms. Harrison just finished her Bachelor of Health Sciences at McMaster, but won’t have the chance to cross the stage and receive her degree in person before heading to Oxford University this fall. To make up for the cancelled convocation ceremony, the pair played her the Arkells’ song “Years in the Making.” The appearance was later featured on the Stronger Together, Tous Ensemble benefit concert for Food Banks Canada.

April 27, 2020

 

NB institutions reopen for some students

Last week, New Brunswick reached the one-week mark with no new COVID-19 cases reported. On Friday, Premier Blaine Higgs announced that the province would gradually reopen businesses, educational institutions, health-care facilities, recreational spaces, and arts and culture venues. The return to business will be done in four phases. This loosening of restrictions means that university campuses in the province will reopen to some students who must work on site to fulfill specific course requirements.

University of New Brunswick president Paul Mazerolle clarified that access to UNB campuses will only be granted to “practicum and research labs under strict guidelines and it does not yet include regular in-person classes.” He added that this return to campus applies exclusively to “academic programs deemed essential by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and is restricted to programs that involve a practical or lab components, particularly those that serve both the regional health authorities and the long-term care sector.”

ON university plans for in-person classes this September

Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ontario, is preparing to offer in-person instruction at the start of the fall term. President Robert Graham wrote in a statement on Friday that the university is “moving past the initial phase of emergency response and urgent change,” and that “despite many uncertainties” is planning to begin the new academic year “in person and on campus.” To this end, the university will continue regular cleaning of campus facilities, offer hand sanitizer, adhere to physical distancing measures as required, and will open a new student health facility this fall.

Some 789 students were enrolled at the Christian university in fall 2019. The institution claims an average class size of 20 students.

Summer jobs for students

Manitoba students will soon benefit from a provincial summer-wage subsidy program. With the Summer Student Recovery Plan, the province aims to help students aged 15 to 29 to find or keep work in the private and non-profit sectors by subsidizing hourly wages at $7 an hour. The province has earmarked $120 million for employers, with a cap of $5,000 per student and five students per employer, for a period beginning May 1 to September 4.

Student associations in Manitoba are lukewarm on the subsidy, suggesting that employers will only start hiring summer students once the province has put forward a plan for relaxing public health measures and reopening businesses. They also point out that this announcement comes shortly after a provincial directive that universities cut costs by 30 percent, a constraint that will mean job losses on campus and the possibility of tuition or fee increases.

Science policy experts respond to pandemic

The Canadian Science Policy Conference has published a series of editorials related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Roseann O’Reilly Runte, president of the Canada Foundation for Innovation and former president of Carleton University, and Rob Annan, president of Genome Canada, are among the contributors included in “Response to COVID-19 Pandemic and its Impacts.”

A number of articles directly address the situation playing out in the postsecondary sector, from the transition to online education to pass/fail grading options.

The organization put out a call earlier this month for op-eds on policy development, the economic and scientific impacts caused by the pandemic, and lessons learned from global health challenges.

Concordia leads student journalism initiative for COVID-19 news

Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism is working with the Canadian Association of Journalists, Esri Canada and journalism schools around the country to offer collaborative, free materials for reporters covering COVID-19. The institute hired 10 student journalists from across Canada to prepare tools and offer reporting assistance to news organizations. Called Project Pandemic, the initiative offers interactive maps, technical support, local sources, reader-engagement templates, data analysis, and access to collaborative reporting projects.

Something nice

There are hundreds of students still living in residence at the University of Toronto Scarborough. Recently, those students received care packages from UTSC staff and students that included a gift card, small treats, and exam prep items like pencils, highlighters and study tips. A total of 340 packages were delivered to students in residence.

The students behind the senior-engagement initiative Chatting to Wellness are keeping students connected to residents in retirement and long-term care homes during the COVID-19 crisis. The three-year-old volunteer organization has moved to a remote model to keep these groups socializing during the pandemic. Seniors or their loved ones can fill out a form online to be paired up with a student volunteer for social calls.

April 24, 2020

 

Federal update on research funding  

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $1.1 billion in new funding for a national research strategy to fight COVID-19 based on three pillars: vaccine research, clinical trials, and testing and modelling.  

Nearly $115 million will go to vaccine research at hospitals and universities, $662 million for clinical trials for vaccine and therapies, and $350 million for COVID-19 testing and modelling.  

As part of this strategy, the government has created the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force to oversee a massive blood testing initiative with the aim of better understanding the scope of the coronavirus infection and COVID-19 immunity 

Nearly $115 million of this new research funding will be distributed to the Canadian Institutes for Health Research to launch a new COVID-19 project grant program 

Read our story about the announcement for more detail about the new task force and a list of projects that will be funded under this new plan. 

Federal update on graduate student and postdoc funding 

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research has offered some additional detail to the federal government’s student-funding announcement on Wednesday. As previously mentioned, CIHR will receive more than $291 million to distribute to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows as income support while academic labs are closed. Thifunding will extend the term of Canada Graduate Scholarships, Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships, but CIHR clarified that this will also apply to “indirect support” provided to trainees who are paid from a principal investigator’s CIHR operating grant. 

In a statement released on Thursday, CIHR president Michael J. Strong explained that disbursement details are forthcoming: “Understanding that the majority of student and postdoctoral support arises from within operating grants, this new funding is intended to help relieve the pressure on grants during this interval of time and better position individual researchers to return to the lab when the time comes. While the full mechanisms of disbursement of the funding remain to be established, funding apportioned to CIHR will be administered through CIHR directly. 

(The statement also touched on the research funding announcement made by the prime minister on Thursday.)  

Federal update on COVID stats 

The feds really heaped on the news yesterday. In addition to a major funding announcement from the prime ministerthe government released early results from Statistics Canada’s first “crowdsourced” survey. From April 3 to 9, nearly 200,000 people filled out an online questionnaire about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting their lives.  

Here’s a snapshot of what the results suggest:  

  • 80 percent of participants in all age groups reported being very or extremely anxious about overloading the health system.  
  • Nearly 6 in 10 people aged 65 and older reported that they were very or extremely concerned about their own health, compared with 23 percent among those aged 15 to 24 and 28 percent of those aged 25 to 34.  
  • 41 percent of participants aged 15 to 24 reported that they were very or extremely concerned about stress from confinement at home, with 40 percent of those aged 35 to 44 reporting the same. Only 30 percent of participants 55 and older felt the same. 
  • Younger participants aged 15 to 24 were more worried about the possibility of civil disorder (43 percent) compared with 24 percent among participants aged 75 and older. 
  • Nearly 50 percent of participants aged 15 to 24 reported that the COVID-19 pandemic would have a “moderate” or “major” impact on their ability to meet their financial obligations, compared with an overall rate of 34 percent for all participants. 
  • Young women aged 15 to 24 were significantly more likely to report that they were very or extremely anxious about the possibility of violence in the home (12 percent), relative to men in the same age group (8 percent). 

View a more detailed summary at the Statistics Canada website.  

The agency also just updated the Canadian Statistical Geospatial Explorer Hub with geo-enabled data related to COVID-19 for all your pandemic mapping needs.  

Preliminary results on asymptomatic transmission 

The research team behind DECOPA, which we first told you about mid-month, has released findings from a short study conducted April 14-17 at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. The team had opened a COVID-19 screening clinic exclusively for UQTR staff to determine the extent of virus transmission by asymptomatic carriers in a closed community that’s following physical distancing measures. Of 330 volunteers who were tested in the clinic, less than two percent were found to be COVID-positive. The investigators say that these results suggest that danger of widespread transmission by asymptomatic carriers of the virus that leads to COVID-19 is low.  

The project summary is available (in French) on the UQTR website 

Something nice: More very good dogs 

The University of Saskatchewan has taken a cue from Carleton University and brought its popular therapy dog program onlineRejoice 

Twice a week, from April to July, therapy dogs with the PAWS Your Stress program will take to Facebook Live to demonstrate a healthyliving hack for their human friends. They’ll also make appearances during online storytimes sponsored by Scholastic Canada.  

If you missed Lola, Zaphod and Anna-belle this week, you can catch recordings of their live therapy sessions on Facebook, YouTubeTwitter or Instagram. 

April 23, 2020

 

Federal updates

In case you missed it yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an aid package for students facing financial hardship due to COVID-19. The package includes the new Canada Emergency Student Benefit, the new Canada Student Service Grant for volunteerism, an expansion of the Canada Student Grant and 76,000 jobs for students. All told, the new measures represent a $9-billion investment by the federal government into postsecondary students and new grads. Read our coverage of Wednesday’s announcement here. Following the announcement, Science Minister Navdeep Bains clarified on Twitter that the aid package also includes $40 million to Mitacs and funding to the Business/Higher Education Roundtable in order to create a total of 10,000 to 20,000 work-integrated learning placements.

Another significant update from the federal government on Wednesday came out of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The ministry has temporarily dropped the restriction that limits international students to a maximum of 20 hours of paid employment per week while courses are in session. The exemption only applies to students working “in an essential service or function, such as health care, critical infrastructure, or the supply of food or other critical goods.” This news is particularly pertinent to the 11,000 international students in Canada enrolled in health science programs. The change will be in place until August 31, 2020.

Layoffs at ULaval

Université Laval has laid off 600 contract employees. The university says the temporary layoffs are a cost-cutting measure to stem revenue while campuses are closed during the pandemic.The decision effects employees in campus events, parking, student services, the faculty of dentistry’s community clinic, athletics and recreation, career placement services, printing services, and housing (residences had an occupancy rate of 40 percent in early April, according to Le Journal de Québec).

High levels of pandemic-related stress and anxiety among Canadians: study

A study by an interdiscplinary research team at Université de Sherbrooke suggests about a quarter of Canadians is experiencing a form of generalized anxiety and/or a form of post-traumatic stress as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, with these conditions reported at a higher rate in provinces and territories outside of Quebec. The study also found that strong confidence in decision-makers and public authorities helps to lessen stress and anxiety. Residents of Quebec reported a higher level of trust in authorities than respondents from other areas.

The study was relatively small (300 people in Quebec and 300 people in the rest of Canada were surveyed), but the researchers say it’s enough to provide a snapshot of the “psychosocial” experiences of many Canadians right now. The team will expand the study throughout Canada and to another six countries in order to compare data across regions, monitor changes in psychosocial responses and to gauge the influence of government and media communication on these responses.

Coronavirus misinformation

The USherbrooke study mentioned above also included some troubling findings on misinformation and mistrust around the pandemic: 51 percent believe the coronavirus is natural; 38 percent believe governments are hiding important information about the coronavirus; 15 percent believe the pharmaceutical industry helped spread the virus with another 21 percent believing they’ve already found a drug that can treat it; nearly 8 percent of Quebec respondents and 16 percent elsewhere in Canada believe in a connection between 5G technology and the coronavirus.

“From these early findings, we can deduce that at least one in 10 people in Canada believes some sort of conspiracy about the cause of the current pandemic,” explained Marie-Eve Carignan, a co-investigator in the study and a specialist in risk and crisis communication. “A comparison of the data also shows that conspiracy responses are related and form an organized belief marked by distrust in science and government authorities.”

These results are backed up by observations made by a pair of social media researchers at Ryerson University. Writing for The Conversation Canada, Anatoliy Gruzd and Philip Mai reflect on the harmful rhetoric coming out of the conspiracy theory using the hashtag #FilmYourHospital. The misinformed idea behind the campaign is that some hospital parking lots and waiting rooms are as empty as ever, which means media and government have been giving false reports about how widespread COVID-19 really is. The researchers analyzed 100,000 tweets with the hashtag and found “signs of ad hoc coordination among conservative internet personalities and far-right groups attempting to take a baseless conspiracy theory and turn it into a weapon against their political opponents.”

The researchers urged for a “heightened awareness” around COVID-related misinformation, and to that end, created the COVID-19 Misinformation Portal. (Similar work to counter the COVID-19 “infodemic” and flat-out misinformation is being led by the University of Alberta’s Tim Caulfield, whose project was among last month’s recipients of “rapid-response funding” from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.)

Something nice: Hear McGill’s ROAAr

McGill University’s ROAAr group – that’s the university’s Rare Books and Special Collections department, the Osler Library of the History of Medicine, the Visual Art Collection, and Archives and Record Management – has released a “quarantunes” playlist.

The Spotify mix ranges from classical and early blues, to disco and neo-country. In a blog post about the playlist, ROAAr head library clerk and resident mixtape-maker Melissa Como recommends you “play it on shuffle for a wild, slightly jarring, ride.” Give it a listen – you might find just the “summer bops and apocalypse anthems” you didn’t even know you needed.

April 22, 2020

 

Fall scenarios

With the trajectory of the pandemic still so uncertain, few universities are willing to commit to what the fall term will look like. Carleton University president Benoit-Antoine Bacon, in a message to the community yesterday, said the university is examining “a broad array of scenarios,” adding that “it is difficult to imagine a return to full international mobility, and a complete lifting of physical distancing measures that would allow the return of large gatherings in confined spaces.”

Similarly, University of Waterloo president Feridun Hamdullahpur, in a message sent to university employees on April 20, noted: “Like every university, college and school in the country none of us can predict with confidence what the situation will be in September.” He added, however, that, “For now, we must build full plans for the fall term to happen at a distance.”

In a similar vein, Brock University president Gervan Fearon has “committed to a fall term,” but didn’t add much detail beyond the fact that the university will closely follow public health advice and guidelines. He said that it’s “too early to say how the term will unfold,” but wanted to reassure incoming students and their parents that school will indeed be in session come September.

A University of Alberta planning document dated April 16 envisions three possible scenarios: 1. Limited in-person instruction permitted, non-essential research allowed, international students here, campuses are open; 2. Limited in-person instruction, non-essential research allowed, international students not here, campuses are open; 3. No in-person instruction, essential research only, international students not here, campuses are closed.

One higher education institution in Canada which has hazarded a date for a return to face-to-face instruction is Ottawa’s Algonquin College. Their target? July 6. However, they too concede that this may be too ambitious, noting that academic teams “are meeting regularly to discuss possible alternative dates and scenarios.”

In the U.S., meanwhile, the uncertainty hasn’t prevented at least two institutions from declaring their fall intentions, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. The provost of California State University at Fullerton said on April 20 that the university plans to start the fall semester online and will gradually move back to on-campus operations if governmental and health authorities allow. The president of Purdue University, Mitchell Daniels Jr., has taken the opposite stance. He wrote in an email yesterday that his university, located in West Lafayette, Indiana, was “determined not to surrender helplessly” to the virus and will invite students back in August. Shutting down campus, he wrote, “has come at extraordinary costs, as much human as economic, and at some point, clearly before next fall, those will begin to vastly outweigh the benefits of its continuance.”

University kitchens

University dining services are used to pumping out meals for thousands of people every day. With campus restaurants and dining halls closed or operating on a limited basis, some university chefs are offering their services to local food security campaigns. The University of Guelph’s hospitality services are now preparing some 500 meals a day for an emergency food-delivery program out of Guelph’s Community Health Centre. The centre estimates some 50,000 meals will be delivered every week in the local community.

Meanwhile, culinary services at the University of Saskatchewan have donated fresh produce and food to the Saskatoon Friendship Inn that will be used to help prepare meals for local residents.

The “StudentVu” on COVID-19

Academica has started releasing results from its StudentVu survey on how the pandemic is affecting postsecondary students and applicants. The first set of results focuses on prospective students, whose responses fell into a common theme of “excitement tempered by uncertainty,” with about a third of respondents reporting they are “very or somewhat uncertain about whether they will attend” a higher education institution this year. The majority said they would enroll in courses even if their program is only offered online in the fall. Academica will soon release results from their survey of current students.

Something nice: Support for international students

Some local communities have been rallying behind international students, who are living through this pandemic with the added stresses of being far away from their home communities and loved ones for an indeterminate period while also facing financial challenges. Hamilton residents, led by the city’s Indian community, have started the Hamilton Community Organization in Support of International Students for students at McMaster University and Mohawk College.

Earlier this month, international students “stranded” in residence at the University of Sudbury received a donation of more than 800 pounds of food from a local food bank and the Knights of Columbus.

And student unions are stepping up, too. At Brock University, the student union and international student office have provided grocery and takeout gift cards to international students. A similar effort is underway at the University of Victoria, where the student union will use remaining funds from the events budget to donate grocery gift cards to students in need, with priority going to international students and union staff members who’ve been laid off.

April 21, 2020

 

StatCan seeks student input

Statistics Canada is gathering data on the country’s postsecondary students during the COVID-19 crisis. The survey sets out to gain insight into the “educational, employment and financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic” by asking postsecondary students about their academic plans and new financial considerations around tuition, rent and other expenses as a result of the pandemic.

The data collected can help federal decision-makers in responding to the needs of the student population. Prime Minister Trudeau has said on several occasions during his daily press briefings that the federal government would soon be enacting measures to support students.

Students have until May 1 to participate.

Students have their say

Students haven’t been waiting for Statistics Canada to tell the government what’s on their minds. Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities, a coalition of student associations at U15 institutions, prepared its own survey on gaps in support for postsecondary students during the crisis. With more than 3,000 responses from 64 different institutions in Canada, the group found that the vast majority (60 to 73 percent) of students are worried about covering rent and utility bills over the summer, paying for groceries and credit card debt. Nearly 80 percent are worried about how they’ll pay for fall tuition. However, 37 percent reported that they are looking for summer work, 23 percent had their summer jobs cancelled and another 21 percent are worried that their summer jobs would be cancelled. The group goes on to recommend that the federal government provide funding for students and new graduates through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, as well as emergency student funding to be administered through universities. Global News reports that members of UCRU have been in discussion with government representatives.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations released a similar list of five recommendations for the federal government on how to support postsecondary students during the coronavirus crisis. Among their recommendations: a CERB stream for students and new graduates, a boost to individual amounts awarded through the Canada Student Grant program, and allowing any international student with a valid study permit to travel to Canada for the start of fall term in September.

Students have an ally in Jagmeet Singh. The federal NDP leader stood up in Parliament this week and advocated for the government to drastically relax eligibility requirements for CERB so that it can be universally accessed, a move that he said would specifically address the financial challenges many students are facing with the loss of summer jobs and on-campus employment. “The reality is far too many Canadians are falling through the cracks, in particular students.”

Winter grades won’t affect “R” score

On Monday, Quebec’s Minister of Education, Jean-François Roberge, announced that winter semester grades won’t be included in CEGEP students’ “R” score, the province’s GPA equivalent that universities consider as part of their admissions decisions. According to the Montreal Gazette, the minister said there had been too much disruption and disparity in CEGEP-level instruction due to the pandemic and incorporating those grades into the “R” score would be unfair.

Making datasets available to students

A number of Canadian ecologists and evolutionary biologists are making their datasets openly available to graduate students who’ve seen their fieldwork plans cancelled this spring and summer. Stan Boutin, a biology professor at the University of Alberta explains that the Kluane Red Squirrel Project, research he co-leads in the Yukon, will be sharing historical datasets from 50 years of fieldwork with students who could use it to fill gaps in their projects.

“For example, students working somewhere else in Canada might be curious about the reproductive success of animals during a changing climate. They’ve done all the background research and written a proposal but can’t get the data they need. These students could approach us, explain their interest, and ask us for access to our data.”

Something nice: Create a “good goodbye”

Graduating students should try to create a “good goodbye” to mark missed milestones, says a grief researcher with King’s College at Western University.

Carrie Arnold specializes in the study of death, dying, grief and loss. In a post to Western’s Instagram account, the faculty member explains that feelings of anger, confusion, sadness, anxiety and uncertainty can all be symptoms of grief – a natural reaction to missed milestones like convocation, or saying goodbye to friends, classmates and instructors. She urges graduating students in particular to find creative ways to reframe what they’re experiencing and to create opportunities for connection and celebration, like getting dressed up for a party with classmates over Zoom, emailing a faculty member to say farewell and thanks, or inviting someone who’s made an impact on your university experience for a virtual coffee. “What we call this is having a ‘good goodbye,’” she says.

In an interview with Western News, she says it’s important that parents (and, presumably, faculty members and university administrators) acknowledge and validate these feelings of loss. “[Students are] really aware of what they’re missing out on – their sports teams and playoffs, their peers, their classes, celebrations, music festivals. They really are missing out on a lot and it’s important to help them name that, ‘Yes, you are grieving,’” she says. “Our job … is to really give them voice for this, help them to normalize the losses and, at the same time, give them some tools that they can use to cope.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

This is not the typical end to a school year. It can be really unsettling and bring many challenges within school, work, and family. Dr. Carrie Arnold shares how to cope and how to have a “good goodbye” #carryonkings #igotokings ⁣ ⁣ “Hi, my name is Dr. Carrie Arnold and I teach in the Thanatology program which is the study of death, dying, grief and loss. Many of us think that we only experience grief after someone dies yet we can also have a grief response to non-death losses, such as the loss of a job, health, or the end of a relationship. ⁣ ⁣ The ending of this school year is so very different than what we had all hoped for and with that can come some real feelings of anger or confusion or sadness or just a sense that this really isn’t fair along with a sense of anxiety and uncertainty. Please know that that’s a really typical response to what we’re all going through at this time and reach out to us if you feel that we can be of help. ⁣ ⁣ For graduating students you’re not having the chance at this time to have the farewell or the celebration that you might have hoped for. So in response to that we thought we’d share a few ideas with you. If you want you can get dressed up and have a zoom party with your classmates and celebrate. If there are people who really made a difference in your university experience you’re welcome to send them an email and let them know what that was like for you and have your own experience to say farewell. If you and your classmates want to invite a faculty member, a staff member, or any other person on campus who’s made your experience memorable, invite us for virtual coffee. We’re happy to come and celebrate all of your achievements. What we call this is having a “good goodbye.” ⁣ ⁣ So as you find a way to say farewell to your university experience be creative, connect with us, and be sure to celebrate. For students who are returning in the fall, we look forward to connecting with you. For graduating students, congratulations. We are so incredibly proud of you. Well done!”

A post shared by King’s University College (@kingsatwestern) on

April 20, 2020

 

Ontario invests $20M in COVID-19 research

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced on the weekend that the province would invest $20 million in research for a vaccine against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. In a press release, the government says it’s calling on “all of the province’s world-class research institutions, postsecondary institutions, and non-profit scientific partners to take action in the development of innovative solutions to track and defeat COVID-19.”

Researchers have until Friday, April 24 to submit applications through the Ontario Together website. The government is prioritizing projects that can be completed within one to two years.

In its coverage of the funding announcement, the Toronto Star quotes Ontario’s NDP, which pointed out that this funding comes a year after the premier cut health research in Ontario by $25 million.

Academic cost-cutting, job losses

Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government has instructed the province’s universities to cut their budgets by as much as 30 percent. The CBC reports that institutions have until tomorrow to submit scenarios that show cost-cutting by 10, 20 and 30 percent. Some schools, such as Brandon University, have already laid off some staff, asked employees to use banked paid time off or take unpaid leave. A spokesperson from the University of Winnipeg told the broadcaster that these demands are being made by the province even as many university employees see a big increase in their workloads.

“I think the thinking is that since the physical campus is closed, there must not be as much need for staffing and for expenditures. That’s not necessarily true though, in our case, because we’re as busy as we’ve ever been,” said Chris Minaker, who works in the president’s office at U of Winnipeg.

The University of Alberta, responding to drastic funding cuts from its provincial government, has negotiated a “letter of understanding” with the university’s Non-Academic Staff Association and will proceed with temporary layoffs of support staff for up to 120 days. Laid off staff may apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, will continue to be covered by the institution’s health insurance plan and will be recalled to their jobs once the layoff period is over.

CAUT town hall

Last week, the Canadian Association of University Teachers launched a virtual town hall series about the impact of COVID-19 on academic jobs. The second meeting is scheduled for this Wednesday, April 22, and will include a moderated discussion about privacy intellectual property issues associated with the move to online work. Future discussions will cover academic governance, granting council updates, and the status of contract staff.

“Bridge” funds for students, staff

This week marks the deadline for postsecondary students attending institutions in New Brunswick to apply to the province’s Emergency Bridge Funding for Vulnerable Post-Secondary Students. The Government of New Brunswick created the fund on April 3, which is administered by individual schools. Students who meet the eligibility requirements may receive a one-time grant of up to $750.

At Memorial University, it’s not just students who will benefit from “bridge” funding. In light of the global pandemic, the Newfoundland university has allocated extra money to its existing Bridge Fund, which helps researchers experiencing an unexpected funding gap to retain personnel. Faculty members have until mid-May to apply for up to $10,000 to keep student and postdoctoral researchers on projects.

Profiles of on-campus work

More universities are shouting out staff members working on campus while buildings are closed to the public. The nature of their work (or of their work tools) means these employees can’t work remotely, and so clock in on campus every day to keep university operations running smoothly.

A member of the University of Calgary cleaning staff disinfects a workstation.

The University of Calgary has commended its cleaning services staff for quickly responding to the increased demands COVID-19 has placed on the institution’s caretaking department. Michael Love, director of caretaking, says the department had started preparing its response at the outset of the virus in January and February. He adds that the department had been preparing for the possibility of a viral outbreak on campus “years ago.”

Dalhousie University reports that about 40 custodians continue to work on campus amid the outbreak, and most of these stationed in campus residences. They’re part of a relatively small group of staff – including security officers, thermal plant operators, clinicians and researchers – and international students who remain on campus. Custodial services managers say that despite the more rigorous cleaning demands, their employees have shown “real loyalty” to students.

For its part, Brock University is running an ongoing series profiling the teams that are working on campus right now – from facilities management and financial services, who ensure everything stays clean and everyone gets paid, to mail services staff, who are busier than ever despite running a limited distribution service.

Something nice

Between the continued stream of COVID-19 updates and the terrible news coming out of Nova Scotia this weekend of Canada’s worst mass shooting, today’s moment of kindness asks readers what we can do for others. Health sciences professor Scott Lear, writing for The Conversation Canada, suggests seven things you can do to help.

This also seems like a fitting time to tell you about a rendition of “Rise Again” by Voices Rock Medicine, a Toronto-based choir of women physicians. The video of the virtual choir was originally released in “tribute to the superheroes of Canadian health care, and beyond.”

April 17, 2020

 

Campus facilities and emergency response

The University of Saskatchewan is preparing to transform Merlis Belsher Place, a multi-purpose complex, into a field hospital should Saskatoon see a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases. The venue would allow the Saskatchewan Health Authority to care for up to 250 COVID-positive patients on an emergency basis.

The 120,000-square-foot complex is home to practice facilities for the university’s hockey and basketball teams, and also houses the Ron and Jane Graham Sport Science and Health Centre. The health authority has toured the site and plans to prep the field hospital should Saskatoon’s City Hospital see 50 percent of its beds in use. With the U of S venue, the city would have 1,266 beds for COVID-19 treatment.

Also this week, the University of Guelph announced that it would allot spaces in student residences to accommodate health-care workers and emergency service workers. Frontline staff may rent rooms or apartment suites on a daily, weekly or monthly basis from now until July.

Mental health

The Government of British Columbia has launched a free, 24-hour counselling and referral service for the province’s postsecondary students. Here2Talk offers students confidential sessions with a trained mental-health counsellor by mobile app, phone or online chat.

The web, phone and chat services, operated by Morneau Shepell, are available in English and French, with additional languages available upon request. Service operators will also be able to refer students to resources in their local communities.

Melanie Mark, minister of advanced education, skills and training, noted that the province has been developing the service over the past few months. “With the advent of COVID-19 and the increased stress it puts on students, we doubled down to get students the supports they so desperately need. I’m very excited to say that Here2Talk is now available for all 555,000 postsecondary students registered across B.C.,” she said.

Most universities’ counselling offices have transitioned to online and remote services while campuses are closed. If you’re just looking for some quick tips on maintaining your mental health during this difficult period, here’s some advice from Jillian Rankin of counselling services at Mount Saint Vincent University.

If you’re more interested in self-directed learning, Steve Joordens, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, has created a popular MOOC for Coursera called “Mind Control: Managing Your Mental Health During COVID-19.” The purpose of the course according to Dr. Joordens is to give participants “a deeper understanding of the anxiety reaction as it relates to various aspects of our current life, ranging from our consumption of news to the way we talk to our children about this.” He also offers practical strategies for managing that anxiety response. (U of T alumni have access to a slightly different version of this course.)

Or try a webinar on managing anxiety during the pandemic, hosted by the University of British Columbia and featuring Richard Lester, a physician and associate professor in global health, and Steven Taylor, a professor and clinical psychologist at UBC and the author of The Psychology of Pandemics.

International students

While some global education experts anticipate a recovery period for student mobility to last up to five years, postsecondary institutions in Calgary are seeing a bump in international student applications. The Calgary Herald reports that Mount Royal University, for one, has more accepted admissions offers and registrations from international students for the upcoming year than it did for 2018-19. Phil Warsaba, MRU’s associate vice-president of students, says the institution has unofficially relaxed application rules and deadlines for international students, who may have some difficulty accessing necessary documents.

The University of Calgary told the Herald that it also saw an increase in applications from international students (the deadlines preceded pandemic-related emergency measures, the institution noted) and that it it’s “too early to tell what the impact on the university will be.”

As we reported on April 8, the federal government is now allowing international students to start their classes online and complete up to 50 percent of their program outside of Canada if they are unable to enter the country due to travel bans. The PIE News has collected various measures that individual universities in Canada have undertaken to support their international student populations.

Something nice

The University of Saskatchewan reports that education students Laryn Oakes and Monica Bear are among the members of the Quarantine Dance Specials 2020 Facebook group, dedicated to “keep the people dancing.” With powwows and in-person competitions cancelled, the group is a space to share dance videos that help to uplift and connect.

April 16, 2020

 

Expansion of CERB eligibility and a top-up for essential workers

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an expansion of eligibility rules for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit that may help some students and contract employees to qualify for support. The new rules will extend CERB eligibility to:

  • workers earning up to $1,000 per month;
  • seasonal workers who have exhausted regular Employment Insurance benefits and are unable to undertake their usual seasonal work as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak;
  • workers who recently exhausted their regular EI benefits and are unable to find a job or return to work because of COVID-19.

The federal government also announced a new plan to work with provinces and territories on a salary top-up for essential workers earning less than $2,500 a month. The new transfer payment has been designed to specifically help low-income workers, particularly frontline staff in hospitals, care homes, retail services and food supply.

During his daily press briefing yesterday, the prime minister also said there would be additional supports for postsecondary students announced in the next few days.

Researchers release “rapid response” findings on social dimensions of COVID-19

Researchers at York University have released the first round of results from a Canada-wide survey on the social dimensions of the COVID-19 crisis.

The survey suggests Canadians believe that contracting the novel coronavirus is a serious health concern, and that many Canadians will be affected by COVID-19, though few see themselves as individually at risk of getting sick from the virus. Canadians also seem to have strong confidence in medical authorities (particularly chief medical officers and experts with the World Health Organization), overwhelmingly support the emergency social measures that have been put in place (such as social distancing, the closure of schools and venues), and believe that government decision-making around the pandemic should be driven by scientific evidence and medical advice rather than economic considerations – despite the fact that many survey participants reported their employment had been negatively impacted by the pandemic. The survey ran from March 20 to April 8 and received 2,029 responses.

The project is led by Eric Kennedy, an assistant professor in York’s disaster and emergency management program. It was funded through the Tri-Agency’s rapid-response research funding program for projects tackling COVID-19.

According to the report, the results released on April 14 are “the first in a series of rapid dissemination efforts to share our findings with practitioners and decision-makers. Further analysis of the results – including assessing the influence of gender, ethnicity, and other demographic features – will be published through a variety of reports and peer-reviewed articles.”

In an interview with CBC, Dr. Kennedy said the team will continue to distribute the survey to gauge how these perceptions change over time. He anticipates seeing increased frustration with emergency measures. “The big thing we’ll be looking for is how the frustrations ebb and flow over the months ahead,” he said.

Additional updates to the project, called “Understanding Social Perceptions of Risk, Information Sources, Trust, and Public Engagement Related to the COVID-19 Outbreak,” will be posted to the website and Twitter account for Dr. Kennedy’s research group.

Hackers target COVID-19 researchers

Cybersecurity experts are raising the alarm about pandemic-related phishing scams targeting COVID-19 researchers and governments. One ransomware campaign reportedly went after “an unnamed Canadian government health organization and a university conducting COVID-19 research.” Another was sent to medical research facilities and organizations in Canada and elsewhere.

An American expert in cyberthreats noted an “egregious” increase in the amount of attacks during the pandemic. According to IT World Canada:

“On March 20th the federal government’s Canadian Centre for Cyber Security warned that threat actors may try to steal intellectual property from medical researchers or extract money from ransomware.

The ransomware attack detected by Palo Alto Networks came from a spoofed World Health Organization email address (noreply@who[.]int).”

The article suggests several additional warning signs to watch for.

Hacking COVID-19

Today is your last day to register as a participant or mentor for the #TogetherVsTheVirus Hackathon, a three-day event dedicated to developing “functional digital or analogue prototypes to counter the [novel coronavirus] with tangible solutions” for communities in Canada. The 48-hour hackathon starts tomorrow (April 17) and is organized by representatives from the University of the Fraser Valley, the British Columbia Institute of Technology, Simon Fraser University, TedXAbbotsford, Impact Hubs in Montreal and Ottawa, among others. Some of the challenges that teams will be tackling include how to build local food systems, health-care worker burnout and virtual alternatives for graduation ceremonies.

Convocation in a box

Speaking of graduation, one university is trying something a little different. While several universities opt to postpone or cancel convocation, and others prepare online ceremonies, the University of Lethbridge will deliver to graduates’ doorsteps their own “convocation in a box.”

In June, graduating students will receive a package containing their parchment plus a cap and tassel, a commemorative program, an alumni pin, an Indigenous stole if requested, and honour cords for those graduating with distinction. Graduands are encouraged to post photos of themselves celebrating the milestone using the hashtag #uleth2020.

In addition to the convocation package, the university will welcome the class of 2020 to participate in any regularly scheduled convocation ceremony in the next three years.

Human interaction from home

Most of us have heard by now that human interaction is an important part of work life – even when that work life is set at home. Institutions are responding with opportunities for staff and students to connect informally with their colleagues and classmates. Concordia University created CU at Home; Trent University’s school of education has its Wellness Zoom Rooms for teacher candidates; the University of Windsor is hosting a virtual connections for employees, including virtual coffee breaks, fitness classes and a fitness challenge. And with many international students beginning the spring/summer (and likely fall/winter) terms remotely from their home countries, Brock University has moved its international student services online, including virtual Orientation Week events.

Something nice

McGill University has collected more than $1 million for students in need as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Donors contributed more than $650,000 and 1,500 gifts to the McGill Student Emergency Support Fund over the past two weeks. The university also pledged $250,000 from operating funds while the graduate and postdoctoral studies office kicked in $125,000.

As of April 14, 233 students have received emergency bursaries. The university reports that the student aid office is averaging about 40 new applications for emergency funds every day. The bursaries are awarded based on demonstrated financial need and have been requested to help supplement lost income, to cover the costs of family care, for travel fees, to pay for rent and groceries, or to purchase equipment for online courses.

April 15, 2020

 

NSERC update

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council announced a program extension and a new funding opportunity last week.

NSERC has extended the funding period for active Discovery Grants. Current recipients of a Discovery Grant, including those who were approved in the 2020 competition, may opt for a one-year extension at their current funding level. The funding agency will reach out to award recipients directly with detailed information on how to apply for the extension.

With this extension in place, the 2021 competition will only be open to new applicants and current grant holders who don’t opt for an extension (researchers who currently have a Discovery Grant and who choose an extension may not apply).

NSERC, along with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, has created a new funding program for researchers at Canadian colleges and polytechnics.The Applied Research Rapid Response to COVID-19 is offering up to $75,000 for one-year projects. The funding is a product of the Tri-Agency College and Community Innovation program. It’s the second coronavirus-related funding program NSERC launched this month – we reported on the new Alliance COVID-19 grants in our update on April 1.

PEI announces new jobs, funding for students

Prince Edward Island is creating new student jobs, offering funding for emergency support to students and for student-led research projects.

Job placements for high school and postsecondary students are being funded through the province’s Jobs for Youth program (for new jobs in community, environmental and non-governmental organizations), the Department of Fisheries and Communities (for jobs in fisheries and aquaculture), an expansion of PEI’s Post-Secondary Employment Program and the province’s public-sector wage subsidies.

Minister of Education and Lifelong Learning Brad Trivers announced $95,000 in total for emergency supports for students to be administered through the University of Prince Edward Island Student Union, Holland College and Collège de l’Île. His department is also working with UPEI to develop a $75,000-fund for student research opportunities.

The province has already deferred student loan payments until September; extended the Jobs for Youth application period for employers; offered $1,000 in assistance to renters and $750 in employment benefits to students; and expanded student bursaries for those working in farming and construction.

Asymptomatic and community transmission of COVID-19

Researchers at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières have opened a COVID-19 screening clinic dedicated to asymptomatic COVID-19 patients and community transmission of the novel coronavirus that causes the disease. The clinic, called DECOPA, is reserved exclusively for UQTR staff. Its purpose is to determine the extent of virus transmission in a closed community where strict physical distancing and self-isolation measures have been put in place as well as the role played by asymptomatic carriers. Lyne Cloutier, a professor in the department of nursing, is leading the study, which will include the participation of some 2,000 UQTR employees. Read more about the study (in French) here.

Archiving the pandemic

The Canadian Association of Research Libraries is helping institutions to coordinate their efforts to archive COVID-related web material. CARL’s Canadian Web Archiving Coalition is hosting a call tomorrow (April 16) to discuss preservation projects being carried out and any gaps in current efforts.

In a statement, CARL says it is supporting efforts to document the COVID-19 crisis in order to avoid another “forgotten pandemic” (as the 1918 flu is sometimes called).

Register for the call here.

Something nice

The University of Regina ran a profile of its employees who are still clocking in for work on campus every day. While many staffers working in faculties, libraries, student affairs and administration have transitioned to work from home, there are still a number of employees working on campus in IT, financial services, human resources, printing services, advancement and communications, the registrar’s office and the president’s office. And for campus security, maintenance personnel and custodial services, very little has changed in terms of on-campus staffing numbers. In fact, custodial staffers have seen a massive increase in their workload.

Emmet Boyle, director of maintenance and utilities at U of R, explains that staff shifts have changed somewhat in order to accommodate childcare needs and to comply with physical distancing measures, and that staff members have received extensive health and safety training related to COVID-19.

“I think it is important to remember these folks have been on campus every day making sure the environment and facilities are safe,” he told U of R’s communications team.

The story also quotes Pat Patton, director of security and operations: “As usual, our teams on campus have been doing an exemplary job … They are the heroes behind the scenes. They have been working diligently to keep our environment safe and secure every day.”

So, spare a thought for your campus colleagues who are keeping the university safe and keeping it running while you’re away. (And for more on the behind-the-scenes heroes in facilities management and the work they do, check out our feature from August 2019, “A day in the life of a university maintenance department.”)

April 14, 2020

 

Academic governance in times of crisis

Over the past month, university administrations have found themselves in extraordinary circumstances. And extraordinary circumstances have called for emergency governance meetings. But the need to make quick decisions doesn’t mean the rules of bicameral governance should be thrown out the window. In a blog post for the Centre for Free Expression English professor Carolyn Sale recounts a series of emergency meetings that led to her institution’s adoption of a pass/fail grading system for the winter term. In her view, these meetings, which were convened by a videoconferencing platform, contributed to the suppression of fair academic governance at the university by allowing senior administrators to circumvent some of usual procedures — namely by muting participants’ microphones.

“No chair of any meeting of an executive, council, or senate at any of our postsecondary institutions in Canada should ever be permitted to deprive the executive, council, or senate’s members of any of the procedural mechanisms by which members can act to protect the procedural rules for the meeting by speaking out against a breach of the rules. That goes for all meetings of faculty association executives and councils as well. If anything, Canada’s universities should be especially careful to uphold the rules of democratic decision-making given that (depending on the size of the institution) tens of thousands of students are affected by their decisions. Canada’s postsecondary institutions also have a responsibility to uphold the principles of collegial governance, which includes that the senior academic body’s right to make decisions should not be abrogated by an ‘emergency’ unless there is absolutely no other alternative.”

Emergency funding for students in SK

On Thursday, the Government of Saskatchewan announced $1.5 million in emergency funds for postsecondary students in need. The funding will be made available to both domestic and international students in the form of one-time bursaries, distributed from April 1 through to September 30, 2020.  “We recognize the need for urgent supports to help vulnerable students, including those from northern, remote and Indigenous communities, as well as international students unable to return home,” said Advanced Education Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor.

Made-in-Canada phone app to track COVID cases on its way

Yoshua Bengio, scientific director of Mila, a network of artificial intelligence research in Quebec, says a smartphone app that he’s co-creating to trace COVID-19 cases should be ready within the week. The app uses anonymized location data from smartphones in conjunction with tracing data from known COVID-positive cases to gauge a user’s risk of infection.

According to The Logic, Mila is in conversation with the federal and Quebec governments about opportunities to fund and promote the tool as an alternative to universal physical distancing measures. “The crucial point is that it would allow [us] to focus stronger confinement on the most at-risk people and make it easier for those less at risk to go back to activities outside, work, etc., until they cross paths with high-risk people (which would then tell them to stay home, etc.),” Dr. Bengio explained, adding that a tighter focus on isolating the infected and those at highest risk for infection would help to alleviate the economic impacts of universal measures.

Fond farewell

Paleontologist Robert (Bob) Carroll, emeritus professor of biology at McGill University and former director of the Redpath Museum, died on April 8 after contracting COVID-19. Dr. Carroll was a pioneering researcher who studied the evolution of amphibians and reptiles. He was a long-time mentor to those in the field and had earned several honours over the course of his career, including membership in the Order of Canada. Researchers and former colleagues have been posting their fond memories of Dr. Carroll to social media.

Andrew Hendry, a McGill biology professor and Redpath Museum curator, has been collecting these tributes on his blog.

Something nice: Home baking edition

Put your baking skills to the test and help us determine, once and for all, which Canadian university has the best cinnamon buns recipe.

First up, The UBC Cinnamon Bun, crafted by Grace Hasz in 1954. Ms. Hasz baked these buns until her retirement from the university in 1971. UBC Food Services still uses her recipe, although it’s been slightly modified for current tastes.

The next contender for best campus cinnamon bun in the University of Alberta. The Tuck Shop Cinnamon Bun recipe, by Joyce Kerr, is a bit of a throwback with its preference for margarine to butter, but we’re betting it’s delicious all the same.

But why stop your culinary journey at cinnamon buns?

The Leddy Library at the University of Windsor launched the Historic Home Cooking Challenge, inspired by recipes from a war-time special edition of The Victory Binding of the American Woman’s Cook Book (1943) by Ruth Bertolzheimer. The library has posted snapshots of recipes for maple-nut brittle, baked bean roast and caramel cake, among other dishes, and invited adventurous home cooks to share their results on social media by tagging @LeddyLibrary and using the hashtag #LLHHCC. (The challenge officially ran last week in celebration of Archives Awareness Week, but we’re sure the Leddy would still love to see what you come up with – so would we for that matter!)

April 10-13, 2020 – Long weekend roundup

The University Affairs team is taking the long weekend off, but we wanted to leave you with some #CdnPSE content to keep you company over the next four days. We’ve rounded up suggestions for articles, podcasts, online courses and kids’ activities – plus a few personal recommendations.

Have a restful weekend and stay safe.

Familiar faces

Some of our favourite higher-ed commentators and advice-givers have been making excellent pandemic-related content.

A break from the news

Need a break from pandemic–related news and content? A few suggestions:

  • Five creative writing and English instructors at the University of British Columbia offer up 18 of their favourite books right now, from YA fiction to classic philosophy and everything in between.
  • Bonus: Back in 2014, we asked the likes of Timothy Caulfield and Vianne Timmons “What are you reading now?” We followed that up in 2015 with a reader-submitted syllabus for a “Great Books” course.
  • If you’re aiming for some mindful screen-free time try a these free colouring pages from UBC library’s Colour Our Collections campaign, a free colouring book from Fernwood Books or an intricate colouring page from artist Christi Belcourt. Lakehead University put out an activity book for mindfulness that includes colouring pages as well as puzzles, reflection pages and self-care tips.

Podcasts

A few universities have put out COVID-themed podcasts to help their communities stay connected.

  • For COVIDcast, the University of Calgary has tapped their faculty experts to help the public as we navigate challenges like how to work from home, how to homeschool our kids, and how to care for our health and wellness through these unusual times.
  • The University of Toronto’s COVID-19 “podcast” might not be long (episodes are around three minutes each), but it gets to the heart of some of the pandemic’s most confusing public health issues. Host Vivek Goel is not only vice-president of research and innovation, and strategic initiatives at the University of Toronto, but also a renowned public health expert who was the founding head of Public Health Ontario after the SARS outbreak. He explains why death rates look so different across the globe, how pandemic modelling works, whether or not you should wear a mask, among other things.
  • Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus is putting the expertise of its podcaster-in-residence to good use with One Market. Hosted by Bruce Gillespie, an associate professor of journalism and liberal arts program coordinator, the new podcast offers a glimpse at how people from around that university are adapting to “the new normal.”
  • If you haven’t already listened to Hannah McGregor’s Secret Feminist Agenda podcast, now’s a great time to get caught up — just in time to find out how the show is doing something a little different for season three’s peer review process.
  • Bonus: This isn’t our first time recommending podcasts. Check out some of our previous picks on job searching for students, life sciences, or university administration.

Something for the kids

Who knew that universities had so much great content for kids?

  • The University of Waterloo’s Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC) launched a new resource this week called “CEMC at Home.”
  • SuperNOVA, the not-for-profit initiative at Dalhousie University that promotes STEM to youth in Atlantic Canada, has launched an at-home learning series.
  • Kids camps have become a staple at many universities. The Mini U program at the University of Manitoba might not be in session this summer, but that hasn’t stopped organizers from posting family-friendly activity ideas to the program’s Instagram and YouTube
  • Bonnie Stewart, a professor in the faculty of education at the University of Windsor, enlisted the help of her students and faculty colleagues to review a slew of online educational resources for kids. Find their review videos and podcasts on the faculty’s Open Page website.

Last, but not least

Here’s a no-fuss list of what the UA team has been reading, watching and listening to over the past few weeks:

April 9, 2020 11:30 a.m. EST

 

Feds increase Canada Summer Jobs subsidy to help boost student employment

The federal government announced temporary changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program as a way of trying to bolster student employment through the summer months. Employers that participate in the program receive a wage subsidy for hiring students, aged 15 to 30, during the summer break. This year, the government has increased the subsidy amount to 100 percent of the provincial or territorial minimum wage from the usual 50 percent for public and private sector employers (non-profit employers could already receive a subsidy of 100 percent); extended the end-date for the student employment period to February 28, 2021; and will permit employers to hire students on a part-time basis. The government has earmarked $263 million for the program this year in the hopes of creating up to 70,000 jobs for young people.

The deadline for employer applications to the Canada Summer Jobs program was February 28. However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at his daily press briefing yesterday that the government would reach out to members of parliament to identify essential-service providers that may have missed the deadline but could find work for students through this program.

Meanwhile, more students are calling for additional financial support options from the federal government, preferably through the expansion of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit wage subsidy program (just take a peek at #CERBwonthelpme or #dontforgetstudents for some examples). Yesterday, Mr. Trudeau repeated an assertion that help will be coming for those who don’t currently qualify for CERB, including students.

StatCan responds to COVID-19

Statistics Canada has been roundly critiqued for its slow pace in supplying national-level data during this fast-moving crisis. The agency has responded by creating a web panel survey to get information out in a timely manner and to quickly inform pandemic-related policy decisions.

More than 4,600 people in the 10 provinces responded to the survey between March 29 and April 3. Questions touched on the impacts COVID-19 has had on Canadian residents, namely their health and health-system concerns (84 percent responded they were very concerned the disease would overload the health system); what they’re most stressed about (10 percent of women who responded expressed extreme concern about the possibility of violence in the home during isolation); which precautions they’re taking to avoid contracting or spreading COVID-19 (90 percent report practicing physical distancing); how Canadians are passing their time (on the internet) and where they are getting their COVID-19 information (mainstream news outlets).

The findings are available here, and a summary infographic is available here.

Canadians lead massive plasma study

In case you missed this news, a consortium of Canadian researchers is leading one of the world’s largest studies of blood plasma donated by people who have recovered from COVID-19. The Convalescent Plasma for COVID-19 Research (CONCOR) trial aims to test the effectiveness of using that plasma, which contains antibodies, to treat COVID-19 patients whose symptoms have required hospitalization. It will be carried out in every province and most territories, with some 1,000 patients participating.

The CONCOR partnership includes the Canadian Transfusion Research Network, the McMaster Centre for Transfusion Research, Canadian Blood Services, Héma-Québec and researchers from across the country. It’s being led by hematologist Donald Arnold, a faculty member at McMaster University, Philippe Bégin, a specialist in allergies and immunology at Université de Montréal, and Jeannie Callum, a transfusion specialist of the University of Toronto.

The trial should begin within the next couple of weeks, with results anticipated in six to 10 months.

““We’re talking about a clinical trial that would normally take at least six to 12 months to set up,” Dr. Arnold explained in an article for McMaster’s research news website. “We’ve worked out the groundwork in about five days with a national team of committed scientists and physicians.”

Free professional development for grad students

Memorial University has made its online workshops on professional development for graduate and postdocs open to the public. April’s workshops tackle topics like job searching, virtual networking as well as surviving and thriving in grad school. Register for free on Memorial’s Enhanced Development of the Graduate Experience website.

Something nice

A student at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., has started a pen pal program to connect students and faculty members with local seniors. Missing her tight-knit St. FX family, psychology student Alyssa Spridgeon came up with the Xaverian Pen Pal Project to recreate that sense of community closeness. Read more about the project here.

The University of Toronto has released details about its virtual convocation for spring 2020. Around June 2, the university will post a recording from Convocation Hall that will include some traditional elements of convocation, such as remarks from president Meric Gertler and chancellor Rose Patten, opening and closing statements in Latin, the national anthem and U of T’s ceremonial mace. Degrees will be couriered to graduates after the ceremony, and a live event – with a graduation procession and regalia – will be scheduled for some time in the fall.

April 8, 2020 11:30 a.m. EST

 

Manitoba suspends loan repayments

Manitoba has suspended student loan repayments for six months, effective April 1. Premier Brian Pallister made the announcement yesterday with Economic Development and Training Minister Ralph Eichler.

“Manitobans carrying student loan debt have become vulnerable to programming and labour market changes resulting from COVID-19,” said Mr. Eichler in a press release. “This deferral of loan repayments is going to significantly lessen the hardship for them, at a time when they really need it.”

The statement does not say whether the province will continue to charge interest on deferred payments during the six-month grace period, though it did note that the province will continue to disburse Manitoba Student Aid payments during that time.

Update on international students

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has clarified some details about online learning, study permits and the Post-Graduation Work Permit program during the pandemic. According to IRCC, international students enrolled in Canadian postsecondary institutions whose courses are now online-only due to COVID-19 remain eligible for PGWP. The department noted that this includes international students “who have a study permit or who have been approved for a study permit for a program starting in May or June but who are unable to travel to Canada at this time due to travel restrictions.” These students may start their classes online and complete up to 50 percent of their program outside Canada if they are unable to enter the country due to travel bans and will still be eligible for the work permits.

For those international students who have arrived in Canada, universities are doing what they can to support them throughout their two-week self-isolation, reports The PIE News. Some of the measures they’ve taken include temporarily housing students in private residence rooms with en suite bathrooms, supplying masks and meal deliveries, and offering specialized support services online.

More tips for working from home

Raise your hand if you back hurts from sitting at a rickety old kitchen chair all day. Or maybe you’ve got a permanent kink in your neck from hunkering down on your couch with a laptop perched on your knees for hours at a time. Abigail Overduin, an ergonomics expert in the University of British Columbia’s human resources department, wants to help! Read her tips on the UBC News website and then check out UBC’s “Ergo Your Office” guide.

And it’s not just our environment and tools that have to change as we work from home, we also have to change the way we approach the work we do – and for many faculty members, that means changing the way they approach mentorship. For Nature, Ruth Gotian, assistant dean of mentoring at Weill Cornell Medicine, shares advice on how to be a good mentor in the time of pandemic.

What students are tweeting about the online transition

Students appreciate a professor who stays calm and positive in the midst of a crisis. Students want their profs to show empathy and perspective. Students want their instructors to thoughtfully use the tech at their disposal.

These are just a few hot takes from students about the “great online transition” occurring at postsecondary institutions across Canada and the United States.

George Veletsianos, a professor in the school of education and technology at Royal Roads University, where he also holds the Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology, teamed up with instructional psychology professor Royce Kimmons of Brigham Young University to scrape Twitter for posts from students in Canada and the U.S. commenting on the switch to online courses with the keywords “my professor.” They found six common themes and published the results at the Data Bytes blog on EDUCAUSE.

Pandemic in the first person

As more people get sick from the novel coronavirus, we’re seeing more personal stories emerge about the impact of COVID-19 – stories from front-line workers, from COVID-positive patients, from Canadians abroad who are watching the pandemic spread around them. Here are some of those stories from members of Canada’s university community:

  • Megan Keszler, a critical care nurse and clinical nursing instructor at the University of Calgary, reflects on nursing and teaching during the pandemic – a difficult balance she’s had to strike as she works up to 64 hours a week in the ICU right now. “We, as nurses, have a responsibility to the next generation to show them not only the ideal and textbook version of nursing, but the real, even the ugly, side,” she writes. “We are committed to the sick and vulnerable under the most challenging circumstances. We are committed despite our fears.”
  • Jennifer Mather, a psychology professor at the University of Lethbridge, has recovered from COVID-19 and shared her experience on the university’s website. The main take-away: stay home. “It amazes me that some people are not self-isolating because it is the most logical, simple, straightforward, common sense thing to do,” Dr. Mather said. “COVID is apparently really, really, really good at spreading but if you’re not near somebody, you can’t spread it.”
  • B.W. Powe, an associate professor in the departments of English and humanities at York University, has been on sabbatical with his family in Spain since January. In a letter to York’s YFile, he documents what he’s seen in that country, one of the hardest hit by the pandemic:

“The daily information from Madrid gets harder every day. Shortages are coming. And the Internet is overloading. There have been evenings with blackouts and brownouts. The military has been deployed around the major cities. The borders are closed; air-flights in and from Spain have been mostly stopped. Only one person at a time is allowed out to the grocery store; each person must wear a face mask if you leave your place. Police patrol the streets, making people comply with the new laws. People comply. Images on TV show well-known sites vacated.”

With the United States now the epicentre of the disease, several stories are coming out of the higher-ed community there. At Harvard University alone you can compare the experiences of a married couple of clinical researchers who tested positive – one is asymptomatic, the other had to be rushed to the hospital – against those of the university president, who “never experienced any of the respiratory problems that sent so many people to the hospital. For us, this felt a lot like the flu.”

Something nice

Brock University’s international department didn’t let social distancing get in the way of hosting a talent competition for the school’s international students. Instead, the department took the talent show to Instagram, with winners receiving gift cards for Skip the Dishes. Check out Brock’s Got Talent here.

 

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Vote for your favourite acts in our Brock’s Got Talent virtual competition!✨🎤 . Due to the overwhelming amount of entries, we’ve increased our finalists to the TOP 9 performances. Now it’s your turn to vote! . Swipe ➡️ to view each act and place your vote in the comment section for your favourite. Voting closes Monday, April 6 at 9 a.m. The top 3 acts will be announced Monday at noon. . 1️⃣Jermaine (@jmarsh1all) 2️⃣Zac (@zac__zheng) 3️⃣Maia (@maiamma13) 4️⃣Julia (@_julia.schultz_) 5️⃣Feranmi (@feranmiog) 6️⃣Nalunga (@nalungarachael) 7️⃣Akshat (@akshat.1412) 8️⃣Isabelle (@isabelle.colina) 9️⃣Alirezak (@alirezakhorasanii_) . #talentshow #virtual #competition #talent #sing #brock #brockuniversity #stayhome

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April 7, 2020 12:00 p.m. EST

Before we jump into today’s update, we’d like to acknowledge that this week marks the end of the winter term at most Canadian universities. Let’s all take a moment to consider what you, your colleagues and your students have accomplished over the past four months. Well done!

Emergency legislation overrules patents

The federal government has enacted changes to patent laws that allow it to invalidate patents for medical supplies, drugs and vaccines deemed critical to addressing COVID-19. CMAJ News reports that these changes are included under the new COVID-19 Emergency Response Act. According to CMAJ News:

“Effectively, the act enables Ottawa to combat price gouging or shortages of any needed product, from vaccines to ventilators, by licensing companies to make generic copies of brand-name products without having to negotiate with patent holders. These compulsory licences would only last a year and patent holders would receive ‘adequate’ compensation, to be determined after the fact. According to a spokesperson for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, the new rules are intended to ensure that patents are not a barrier to securing supplies during the pandemic.”

A thought on a national strategy for online education

Alex Usher of Higher Education Strategy Associates has been publishing a series of thoughtful and compelling posts about Canadian higher-ed’s response – both how the sector has responded and how it could respond – to the COVID-19 crisis on his “One Thought to Start Your Day” blog.

Today’s post on creating a collaborative national curriculum for online education is a must-read. Essentially, he suggests that if postsecondary institutions want to avoid “a pedagogical and financial disaster,” they should work together to create a “basket” of customizable, high-quality online resources for first-year courses that tend to have the highest enrolments and are taught across the country. He lays out a fairly detailed plan of action for a nation-wide collaboration, which includes the participation of scholarly associations, institutions and higher-ed advocacy groups like Universities Canada.

Once you’ve finished reading that post, check out yesterday’s piece on why universities should offer international students a suite of special services starting next fall, from robust online services and courses to direct support during a self-quarantine period in Canada.

Research participants needed

A researcher at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia is co-leading a study on how people are coping during the pandemic. Karen Blair, a psychology researcher, has teamed up with Indiana University’s Debby Herbenick to run the study, which consists of an online survey on personal experiences, social connections and views of COVID-19, as well as an optional daily diary study. The team signed up more than a 100 participants in the first day of research.

On the clinical research front, the Research Institute at the McGill University Health Centre is looking for volunteers who’ve been exposed to COVID-19 for a study to test the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating symptoms of the disease. McGill is joining several other research institutions that are looking into the uses of the drug, most commonly used to treat auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Researchers are hoping to find 3,000 recruits from Canada and the United States to participate in the trial.

Something nice

In honour of World Health Day on April 7, the World Health Organization is sending a word of thanks to the world’s nurses and midwives. Some ways you can show your support for health-care workers while staying home: post a note of gratitude to social media using the hashtag #ThanksHealthHeroes; join #cheers4healthcare and make some noise for health-care workers on the frontlines of the pandemic; donate to local and national health-care facilities; stay home. Check out advocacy organizations such as the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario or this post from HealthyDebate.ca for more ideas.

For your daily pep talk look no further than #MacSciCares on Twitter, where members of the faculty of science at McMaster University post messages to reassure. The campaign is intended to keep science students feeling connected and supported by their faculty members, but we can all find a little comfort in them. (You can also read them all at once in this newsletter.)

April 6, 2020 11:00 a.m. EST

 

Emergency funding for students and government response

Today marks the launch of the application period for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. To be eligible for the emergency-pay program, applicants must have earned a minimum of $5,000 in 2019 or in the previous 12 months and must have lost their job as a direct result of the pandemic. (Note that international students may apply for the benefit provided they meet the program’s basic requirements.) The previous-income requirement, however, disqualifies many student employees. Plus, students who rely on summer jobs to subsidize their schooling have seen most of those gigs disappear as the unemployment rate skyrockets. All of this leaves the student population facing a dire financial situation over the next several months.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed this issue and promised that his government was working on a solution. The Globe and Mail quotes Mr. Trudeau: “We know that we need to do more for young people as they come out of university and look for projects and ways of securing income this summer.” He said an announcement would be coming within the next few days.

According to CTV, the prime minister mentioned the possibility of direct financial support through the Canada Summer Jobs program, which supports Canadians between 15 and 30 years old. Mr. Trudeau also suggested that students should look for opportunities in areas they might not normally consider, such as farming or fisheries.

Meanwhile, British Columbia has created an emergency $3.5 million-fund for the province’s postsecondary students. The downside? International students don’t qualify. The province also announced an additional $1.5 million in emergency funds for Indigenous postsecondary students facing financial hardship due to the pandemic.

The Ontario University Workers’ Coordinating Committee at CUPE published a press release asking Premier Doug Ford for additional supports for postsecondary students and employees, namely: emergency grants for students, funding for researchers whose labs have been shut down, continued health insurance coverage for international students and support for universities to implement pay continuity.

Skills training for the jobless

The huge number of layoffs and business closures has also spurred Universities Canada (publisher of University Affairs), Colleges and Institutes Canada, and other stakeholders to ramp up their collaboration with the federal government for a skills-upgrading program aimed at unemployed Canadians. As the Canadian Press explains, it was initially planned to roll out later this year as an annual tax credit and time off from work through the employment insurance system for employees looking to broaden their skillset. With more than 2 million new applications submitted to EI in the past few weeks, now could be a good time for jobless Canadians to look into upgrades. Last year’s federal budget proposed $250 per year, capped at $5,000, for workers aged 25 to 64 years to upgrade their skills at universities, colleges and other eligible institutions.

“We need you!”

The Government of Canada is recruiting volunteers to help with contact-tracing and tracking COVID-19 cases, collecting and reporting data on COVID-19 cases, and other tasks that will help the nation’s health systems to expand their capacity to respond to the disease. While the call for volunteers is open to anyone, the government is prioritizing volunteers with training in medicine and health sciences, such as medical students and recently retired health professionals. The application deadline is April 24.

Something nice

Just because campus is closed doesn’t mean you can’t still contribute to the pursuit of knowledge. Atlas Obscura has compiled a list of research projects seeking the help of citizen scientists. Help scientists classify galaxies and plants, tag photos of penguins, log weird weather, understand local plants and bird migration – all from the comfort of your couch!

Learn more about how citizen science apps are breathing new life into natural science research in a story we published last year.

April 3, 2020 10:00 a.m. EST

 

CIHR cancels spring competition, extends existing grants

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research made a significant announcement yesterday. Not only has it cancelled its project grant competition for spring 2020, but effective immediately, the agency has automatically applied a one-year extension to all active grants, and paused existing and new strategic funding initiatives for three months (with the exception of programs related to COVID-19).

CIHR president Michael J. Strong says the decision to cancel the spring competition was made in recognition that the clinical researchers, health professionals and professors who provide program guidance, peer review and apply to the program are dealing with more pressing concerns – namely rapid-response research and frontline work related to the global pandemic, transitioning coursework from the classroom to the web, and caring for loved ones.

CIHR has proposed specific measures to mitigate the impacts of this loss of funding, including a one-year extension of Investigator-Initiated Research grants that were scheduled to expire between June 30, 2020 and March 30, 2021. It has also asked U15 and Universities Canada to consider implementing or advocating for a one-year extension to tenure-stream academics who are on a probationary period.

Read the full statement here.

Several academics quickly took to Twitter to express their disappointment with the decision – from early-career researchers who feel they’ve been abandoned, to more experienced principal investigators who question the agency’s ability to administer a rapid-response funding program but not a longstanding competition.

Still some applauded the agency for considering the capacity of its employees and volunteers during a difficult time. Alexander Clark, University of Alberta’s associate vice-president, research, who tweeted, “Know this decision is hard – but this is also about creating vital capacity for CIHR staff – who are working on helping researchers around the ramifications of research on campuses being ramped down. Thanks to my CIHR colleagues who are working so hard just now!”

Planning for student success during a pandemic

“There have been two main issues arising for students as they transition to online studies; technological access and money to support themselves. … The access issue is one of equipment failure. … More difficult to solve is an access issue related to students with disabilities or learning challenges that make online learning impossible. … [And] with businesses closing, our students are experiencing layoffs from work. Many rely on this work to provide for their basic needs. Adapting to online learning is taking a back seat to figuring out how rent will be paid and where the next meal is coming from. … The reality however is many students will not be able to finish, and this will be the focus of week three.”

The move to web-based instruction has affected everyone differently. We’ve heard quite a bit about the challenges instructors have faced, but what about those administrators who oversee student affairs and operations? Here’s how Krista Vogt, senior associate registrar for admissions at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, managed the first few weeks of shifting operations online, and the lessons she’s learned so far.

Call for COVID-19 editorials

The Canadian Science Policy Conference will publish a series of editorials related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization is looking for insight into policy development, the economic and scientific impacts caused by the pandemic, and lessons learned from global health challenges.

As an aside: University Affairs is also accepting opinion pieces related to the global pandemic and Canadian postsecondary education. We’re particularly interested in the issues of teaching and learning, operations management, professional development, as well as the personal and professional costs the pandemic has had on academics, administrators, students, postdocs, early-career researchers, librarians and university staff of all kinds. Email us your pitches at editor@univcan.ca.

 

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Bauer goes live today! He’s excited to see all of you and hopes you are all staying safe and well!

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Bauer is a very good boy.

Has anyone been here for us in these trying times more than our pets? But for those living in pet-free homes, Carleton University has you covered. The university’s therapy dogs have their own Instagram account (@cutherapydog) and they’ve been posting live sessions for your entertainment and delight. You’re welcome!

April 2, 2020 12:00 p.m. EST

 

It’s official: Congress is cancelled

The Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences is officially cancelled for 2020. Initially, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences said it would work with participating scholarly associations to shift the mega-conference from Western University to an online platform. (It’s the biggest academic conference in Canada, with more than 70 scholarly associations participating.)

According to a statement today from Federation president Gabriel Miller, the group came out of these consultations with a clear message from association members and organizers at Western: we’re tired and we have other things we need to focus on.

“Our members have told us that we need to turn our energy to other things right now: picking up groceries for our parents; caring for children who are home without school or childcare; answering emails from worried students; and making the shift to virtual classrooms. Cancelling Congress is the right decision, but it is a difficult one. It is a unique event, built on people’s hard work and generosity, and we owe our thanks to association presidents and directors, program chairs, and local arrangement coordinators.”

Chief scientist launches research platform

Canada’s chief science officer Mona Nemer has just launched CanCOVID, a platform for Canadian researchers dedicated to addressing the global pandemic. According to the website, the platform “is an expert community of Canadian COVID-19 researchers, clinical collaborators, and healthcare stakeholders from across the country” and aims to “optimize Canada’s research response to the COVID-19 public health crisis.”

CanCOVID connects researchers for real-time meetings and collaboration via Slack. Researchers who are interested in participating can apply for a Slack invitation by filling out this form.

The project is led by departmental science advisors from various federal departments, including Cara Tannenbaum (Health Canada) and Sarah Gallagher (Canadian Space Agency), with Mark Daley (chair of the board of directors at Compute Ontario) and Alex Mihailidis (associate vice-president, international partnerships, at the University of Toronto). The CanCOVID committee includes representatives from across the higher-ed sector, including the Tri-agency, universities, the federal government and U15.

The platform joins a growing list of collaboration tools for Canadians in the fight against the coronavirus (this week we told you about the researcher-made COVID-19 Resources Canada and about Cognit.ca, by U15).

Lead better virtual meetings

With university courses and most operations set to continue remotely through to at least the summer months, we all could benefit from advice on how to effectively run virtual meetings, whether for our departmental meetings or course seminars. Some tips from the University of Calgary’s Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning: do a dry run or two with your tech and tools before going live; include interactive activities to keep your audience engaged and at their computers – try a Zoom breakout room for small group chats or using a group whiteboard; and tell participants from the outset how you want them to contribute or engage with you and the group. Find more advice here.

York University president Rhonda Lenton will surely put some of these tips to the test today as she hosts a virtual town hall from 3 to 4 p.m. EST.  She’ll be joined on a livestream by vice-president, academic, Lisa Philipps; vice-president, finance and administration, Carol McAulay; interim vice-president, research and innovation, Rui Wang; vice-president, advancement, Jeff O’Hagan; and vice-president, equity, people and culture, Sheila Cote-Meek. Judging by this list, York is prepared to answer a wide range of questions.

Something nice

Herbie Sakalauskas, a video production specialist at Cape Breton University, came up with a fun and creative way to keep his kids busy – and keep them learning – at home. He’s helped them launch a daily news broadcast on YouTube called East Coast Kids News with Liam & Lucas (or just ECK News). Liam, 11, and Lucas, 9, report on the latest news, deliver a weather report, review apps for kids, conduct science experiments and always finish on a happy note. Look out, CNN!

April 1, 2020 11:00 a.m. EST

In putting together today’s update, a clear theme came through: funding. Keep reading for news about funding opportunities on the national, provincial and institutional levels. Plus, an update on a previous update and a few entries in our “Something nice” section.

New NSERC funding and Tri-agency delays

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council has launched a $15-million funding program to connect researchers with partners outside of the academy in order to develop solutions to the global pandemic. The NSERC Alliance COVID-19 grants will provide up to $50,000 to support a one-year collaboration. Unlike other tri-agency partnership programs, participants from the not-for-profit, private and public sectors are not required to contribute funds to the project, but must be engaged throughout the research process. The agency is accepting applications for from now until June 1.

The Social Science and Humanities Research Council recently extended the deadline to submit financial reporting for 2019-2020 to September 30.  SSHRC also extended the deadline for 2020 Impact Awards nominations to May 1.

The Tri-agency has postponed the launch of the 2020 Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships to June 1, and postponed the results of this year’s Canadian Graduate Scholarships (master’s program) to April 15.

In addition to their own programs, the funding agencies are promoting Crowdhelix, a U.K.-based platform that matches academics to international partners and funding opportunities for research related to COVID-19.

Ontario offers $25M for PSE for pandemic relief

Yesterday, the Government of Ontario announced $25 million in new funding to public universities, colleges and Indigenous educational institutes for pandemic response. The money is intended to pay for measures such as mental-health resources, cleaning and medical supplies.

The province also announced a new agreement with eCampus Ontario, an organization that supports open-educational resources, to help postsecondary institutions in the province manage their transition to remote work. According to a statement from eCampus Ontario, it will provide institutions with access to an automated exam-proctoring tool that uses artificial intelligence.

The government also provided details to last week’s news that Ontario would defer student loan payments for six months. It confirmed that borrowers may suspend OSAP payments until September 30, and that loans would not accrue interest during that time. Those who continue with payments will have that money pay down their loan principal.

At a press conference in Toronto, Ross Romano, minister of colleges and universities, said that the response by Ontario’s postsecondary institutions to this crisis has been “nothing short of incredible,” adding, “I want to offer you extreme thanks and gratitude on behalf of all the people of our province.”

More internal funding

Queen’s University has joined the University of Toronto in offering its faculty members funding for pandemic-related projects. Organized by the office of the vice-principal, research, academics from any discipline may receive between $10,0000 to $50,000 for projects “that align with medical and social/policy countermeasures inspired by World Health Organization recommendations.”

An update on the National Emergency Library

On March 27 we told you about the Internet Archive’s efforts to make 1.4 million digitized books widely available through an open lending program called the National Emergency Library. Several media outlets are now reporting on the publishing industry’s frustration with the project. The Authors Guild went so far as to call the Internet Archive “a piracy site.” Essentially, authors and publishers are accusing Internet Archive of flouting copyright rules at a time when artists and publishers are particularly vulnerable.

The Internet Archive has issued a lengthy response to the criticism. It maintains that as a federally-recognized library and registered charitable organization, it has the same right as any other not-for-profit library: “Libraries buy books or get them from donations and lend them out. This has been true and legal for centuries. The idea that this is stealing fundamentally misunderstands the role of libraries in the information ecosystem.”

Something nice

Dalhousie University is collecting stories about how its community has been responding to the COVID-19 crisis. It’s publishing the stories on a tumblr site called “One Dal.” In addition to news releases and  departmental messages, the site links to tweets and is publishing user-submitted messages like this one: “The situation we are going through has been difficult for all of us and something we would never imagine going through. But here we are, all in this together putting up a fight against it.”

Cape Breton University kilt-clad Caper channels Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers infamous and beloved mascot, in this inspired TikTok.

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