Skip navigation
News

COVID-19: updates for Canada’s universities

We are publishing regular updates on the situation facing Canada’s universities with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.

BY UA/AU | MAY 29 2020

Editor’s note: please check back regularly for more updates.

May 29, 2020

CFI suspends COVID-19 funding competition 

On May 26, we reported on a new “Exceptional Opportunities Fund” competition offered by the Canada Foundation for Innovation for research related to COVID-19. The next day, CFI suspended the competitionwhich intended to fund up to $25 million for “urgent needs for equipment for ongoing research related to COVID-19.” 

The foundation explained the decision in a statement posted to its website: “We have received a number of questions from the community and appreciate your feedback. We are taking extra time to consult, evaluate and adjust the call for proposals as necessary. We are dedicated to ensuring this opportunity for funding meets the most urgent needs of Canada’s researchers in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

CIHR competition to proceed remotely this spring 

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s project grant competition will proceed remotely this spring. CIHR president Michael J. Strong issued an update on the competition yesterday in which he confirmed the spring competition will take place with an envelope of $245 million and a few accommodations made for the current crisis. Unlike previous project grant competitions, this spring’s peer review process will take place over the summer via videoconferencing. And though the fall competition may experience some delays, it, too, should be remotely delivered.   

For this to work, we must come together as a community with a singular goal: delivering the highest quality peer review,” Dr. Strong said. “We will need your help in providing peer review for these two competitions, and indeed well into the 2021 cycle. We appreciate that many of you have repeatedly stepped up to assist us in reviewing grants, and that we will be asking you to do so again in rapid succession over three distinct project grant competitions in less than 12 months. Those individuals who were already scheduled to serve as chairs, scientific officers, and reviewers for the spring 2020 competition will be contacted shortly to confirm whether or not they are available to assist with the summer peer review. Beyond this, we will be reaching out to the community in the very near future to seek volunteers who are able to serve as peer reviewers.  

U of Ottawa profs publish free ebook on remote teaching 

As more universities announce fall plans that involve some degree of virtual instruction, now might be a good time to brush up on best practices for remote teaching. Enter the University of Ottawa’s Alison Flynn and Jeremy Kerr.  

Dr. Flynn, an associate professor in the department of chemistry and biomolecular sciences, and Dr. Kerr, chair of the biology department, have published a new open textbook on remote learning that includes practical tips and guidance for adapting a face-to-face course to online platforms, compete with templates. The book is based on their experiences this past fall and approaches remote teaching with accessibility top of mind.  

In a recent opinion piece for UA, Dr. Flynn advocates for prioritizing student input in university decision-making  especially as institutions figure out their responses to COVID-19.  

U of Guelph co-leads survey of pandemic response and Canada’s food system  

The University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute and the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute have partnered on an investigation of how Canada’s food systems have responded to and fared during the pandemic. Over the summer and fall, researchers will consult with stakeholders from Canada’s food systems – producers, processors, migrant farm workers, retailers, consumers, and more – to create a learning network as well as policy recommendations and topics for new research projects. The team is accepting feedback now through the project website 

“In the post-COVID-19 world, seeking answers to the key question of how to build a resilient Canadian agri-food system will become more urgent than ever, as this crisis brings to light where we successfully adapted as well as revealing hidden vulnerabilities in the Canadian agri-food system,” explained project co-chair and AFI director Evan Fraser. 

Something nice 

If you’re looking for something to keep your energy up through a Friday afternoon, you could do worse than to crank up this rendition of Western University’s fight song. The university’s marching band recorded the song over a videoconference – J.W. the Mustang even shimmies his way into the set.  

 

May 28, 2020

U of Manitoba enters Phase 2 of return to research activities

The University of Manitoba will allow some employees to return to campus research facilities as of June 1. The gradual reopening of research spaces is part of the “phased” plan for restarting research activities. The institution released an update on the second phase of the plan yesterday. According to the university, most research will continue remotely, and only projects that require access to research spaces will be permitted on campus or field locations. “It is important to note, this is not a return to normal. Rather it is a step to allow those with a compelling need to access laboratories and facilities to do so,” said Digvir Jayas, vice-president, research and international.

In this phase, up to 50 percent of research personnel can be on campus at a time. The institution clarified that it will use staggered scheduling in order to accommodate most access requests. Research staff who return to work must take measures such as physical distancing, wearing a mask where distancing is not possible, and ensuring frequent hand washing and sanitizing.

AB pauses hydroxychloroquine study, McGill presses on

Researchers at the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta have temporarily halted a province-wide study on hydroxychloroquine. The team behind the Alberta HOPE COVID-19 trial was investigating the anti-malarial drug as an early intervention for COVID-19. The study had recruited some 150 COVID-positive Albertans to test whether a five-day treatment of the drug, typically used to treat malaria and autoimmune diseases, could prevent hospitalization for those at highest risk of developing a severe illness.

The decision to pause the study comes after a paper in the medical journal The Lancet suggested the drug was not effective in treating COVID-19 and may cause heart problems or a greater risk of death. The World Health Organization also announced this week it would cease its study of the drug.

Luanne Metz, a professor of clinical neurology at U of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine and principal investigator on the Alberta study, said her team would consult with others doing similar studies to see if the study should continue. She also told CTV News that the trial was also halted due to low participant enrolment – they were aiming to recruit 1,600 patients. Dr. Metz said U.S. President Donald Trump’s praise for the drug has been a factor. “It adds an extra challenge, because we have people that are afraid when they perhaps don’t have a reason to be afraid themselves. … And then we have people that don’t want to be part of something that might prove President Trump correct.”

Researchers at McGill University, however, said they would continue with their trial of hydroxychloroquine despite the findings in The Lancet paper. Emily McDonald, an investigator at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and director of the MUHC Clinical Practice Assessment Unit, told Le Devoir that she had reservations about the paper, namely that it had been a large observational study with some methodological weaknesses. One of her concerns was that the control group did not receive placebos.

She notes that the randomized, double-blind clinical trial taking place at McGill has already registered 1,000 patients, most of whom are young, have no history of chronic illness or heart problems, and whose symptoms are mild enough that they’re recovering at home. She said they also excluded patients taking drugs that don’t interact well with hydroxychloriquine, such as antidepressants and antipsychotics. (The Alberta study had similar parameters in place.)

Ventilator co-designed by Queen’s Nobel laureate wins federal contract

The federal government has just ordered 10,000 ventilators of a new design conceived in part by a Canadian research team led by Nobel laureate Art McDonald. The astrophysicist and Queen’s University professor won the Nobel Prize in 2015 for his work on neutrinos. But since the pandemic hit, Dr. McDonald had been working with colleagues at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in Ontario, the TRIUMF particle accelerator in British Columbia and abroad to perfect a design created by DarkSide, an international physics network based in Italy.

The design for the simple hospital ventilator, called the Mechanical Ventilator Milano, will be manufactured by Vexos. According to the Queen’s Gazette, the MVM is “an innovative, simple but powerful ventilator designed to address the specific needs of patients severely affected by COVID-19. Through collaboration between Italian, American, and Canadian physicists, engineers, and companies, the device was conceived, developed, and secured FDA authorization in the U.S. inside of six weeks. Health Canada review for the Canadian units will occur soon and delivery of the units is expected to commence in July 2020.”

Non-medical masks

Several municipalities around the world have asked or require residents to wear non-medical masks or face coverings when outside of the home. While Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, initially hesitated to require the face coverings, the federal public health authority issued a formal recommendation on May 20 in support of masks when physical distancing isn’t possible. An international research team is now saying that a hundred years’ worth of data supports that call.

Catherine Clase, associate professor of medicine at McMaster University, is part of a team that examined a century of evidence on cloth masks and found they can reduce contamination of air and surfaces. She noted that masks made out of several layers of cotton cloth will be most effective.

“Direct evidence about whether wearing a mask of any sort outside a health-care setting reduces actual transmission of COVID-19 is lacking. This is why public-health decisions about public mask wearing have been difficult to make, and why they differ around the world,” Dr. Clase said in an interview with McMaster. “Our review suggests that cloth can block particles, even aerosol-sized particles, and this supports Canadian public health policy on the issue.”

Anne Bissonnette, a textiles professor at the University of Alberta had noticed that lack of scientific data to support the use of cloth masks, too. To help make sense of the competing messages about face coverings, she started a website where she’s compiling the latest research on cloth face masks She has also posted a step-by-step guide for sewing an “eyewear friendly” mask at home with fabric recommendations.

At Concordia University, wearing a cloth face mask will soon become a matter of school pride – the university’s athletics department is polling Twitter on which Stingers-branded mask the public would like to see in the world.

Something nice

The University of Winnipeg has put the spotlight on faculty members’ work-from-home colleagues of the four-legged variety. The bimonthly Teacher’s Pet series introduces professors’ beloved cats and dogs. We’re Team Julie and Lil Bean.

May 27, 2020

Quebec wants at least 30 percent of students back on campus this fall

Quebec’s provincial government has requested postsecondary schools to prepare scenarios that would see at least 30 percent of students return to campus. Le Devoir and La Presse are reporting that the province’s cegeps and universities have been asked to plan for three possible scenarios for the start of the fall term: classes begin with a hybrid model allowing for 50 percent of the student body on campus at one time; a hybrid model with 30-35 percent of students on campus at once; and a full return to pre-pandemic class sizes and formats. Institutions have also been asked to consider specific student populations in these scenarios, including students with disabilities, students in their first year and in their final year of study, co-op and work-placement students, and those with limited technological and financial resources. In each case, faculty and staff would have access to campus. The scenarios will be evaluated by public health.

The reports indicate that the request for scenarios comes after the province’s postsecondary institutions expressed concern that a fall term of remote learning would lead to a drop in enrolments. However, several institutions including Université de Montréal, McGill University, Concordia University and Laval University have already announced that courses will primarily take place online. Instructors, for their part, took to Twitter to discuss their concerns about a return to campus.

Manitoba offers financial support to higher-ed institutions weeks after announcing funding cuts

Manitoba announced this week the creation of a one-time “transitional support fund” for postsecondary institutions. According to the Winnipeg Free Press, Economic Development and Training Minister Ralph Eichler said the fund was created to support schools as they “plan for the pandemic’s impact on operations; it will help improve online learning, address enrolment changes related to international students and ‘align programming to labour market demands.’”

This news comes after the province asked publicly funded postsecondary institutions to prepare scenarios for budget cuts of anywhere from three to 10 percent in April. Earlier this month, the University of Winnipeg reported that its 2020-21 operating budget would be cut by the province by just under four percent, or $2.3 million, and that it expected a total shortfall of $6.3 million due to COVID-19. The University of Manitoba was said to be facing a cut of five percent, or $17.3 million. Both universities were preparing for layoffs, hiring freezes, voluntary work reductions and programming changes, among other measures.

Winnipeg study finds COVID-19 patients most infectious within eight days of first symptoms

Despite the back-and-forth on postsecondary funding in Manitoba, researchers in that province are producing results that could be of great use in the fight against COVID-19. A study conducted by the National Microbiology Laboratory, Cadham Provincial Laboratory and the University of Manitoba suggests people who are COVID-positive are most infectious during the first eight days of their symptoms.

The team analyzed samples from 90 Manitobans who tested positive for COVID-19 from March 12 to the first week of April. The researchers found no viral growth in samples taken from patients more than eight days after they became symptomatic. Their findings support previous results shared by researchers based in Germany and China.

As COVID-19 cases decline, study participants harder to come by

Meanwhile, another COVID-related study taking place in Canada has hit an unexpected bump in the road. An iPolitics story about CONCOR (Convalescent Plasma for COVID-19 Research), a cross-Canada trial attempting to treat COVID-19 patients with antibodies from people who have recovered from the disease, reports that the project is struggling to find infected patients to treat. Canadian Blood Services is handing sample collection for the study and suggested that it could be delayed due to a shortage of participants.

“We want to do a study that has a total of 1,200 patients in it. We know that’s going to take a while, particularly because, you know – it’s a good problem to have – but the study will take us longer to do than we thought, now that (the spread of the coronavirus) is slowing down,” said Dana Devine, chief scientist at Canadian Blood Services.

An international list of ongoing pandemic research competitions

From March, when COVID-19 was first identified as a global pandemic, until May 22, at least 139 funding competitions related to COVID-19 have closed around the world, including 10 competitions based out of Canada. Science|Business has been maintaining a database of these opportunities with more than 270 funding calls listed from 44 countries. This week it reported that many of them – approximately 49 percent – are still accepting applications.

On top of that initial burst of funding calls, an additional 84 funding opportunities with fixed deadlines remain open for researchers to apply for. Another 49 funding calls have ‘rolling’ deadlines – meaning they stay open until the money runs out or a final date is reached.

Among these newer calls, for example, the European Commission announced a €122 million COVID-19 research funding round under Horizon 2020, while the Eureka international R&D network launched a call for investigations into the prevention of future pandemics.”

CAUT surveys postsecondary staff on pandemic impact

The Canadian Association of University Teachers has launched another survey to gauge the impact of the pandemic on the higher-ed community. The group’s latest questionnaire aims for a snapshot of “the working lives of staff at universities and colleges across the country.” Employees of Canadian universities, colleges and polytechnics have until June 8 to participate. CAUT produced an earlier survey on how the pandemic has affected postsecondary students.

Something nice

Students at the University of Regina are helping locals to get growing. The student group YOU should GARDEN has been preparing seedlings and “gardens in a bag” to Regina residents who couldn’t otherwise afford to start a home garden. The food security group has already delivered more than 100 canvas garden bags with plants around the city and prepared free, how-to workshops online.

May 26, 2020

Satisfaction guaranteed at Ontario Tech U – or your money back!

In an effort to boost enrolment numbers for the fall term, Ontario Tech University made it clear that it will offer a full refund on tuition to any student who is not satisfied with the quality of their education and withdraws by October 9.

The university said it would aim for a blended-learning approach to the fall term, with the bulk of it taking place online.

Canadian COVID-19 vaccine candidate a step closer to human testing

A vaccine candidate for COVID-19 developed at the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) has cleared the animal-testing hurdle and is one step closer to human trials.

The university announced yesterday that the candidate was shown to be “highly effective in ferrets, one of the commonly used animal models for COVID-19.” The ferrets were given two immunizations before exposure to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The immunizations “induced a strong immune response, generated neutralizing antibodies, and decreased viral infection in the upper respiratory tract to almost undetectable levels.” Over the next few months, the centre will prepare for human trials.

The VIDO-InterVac vaccine is one of a handful of promising vaccine candidates being developed in Canada, the Globe and Mail reports.

CFI, Future Skills Centre now accepting proposals

The Canada Foundation for Innovation has launched an “Exceptional Opportunities Fund” competition for research related to COVID-19 from any discipline. CFI will fund up to $25 million for “urgent needs for equipment for ongoing research related to COVID-19.”

Between June 1 and June 15, institutions can submit application for funding ranging from $200,000 to $1.5 million. CFI will exceptionally cover 100 percent of all costs for projects funded through this competition (the foundation generally requires applicants to show some level of partnership funding). Proposals will be assessed based on research or technology development, the researchers involved (must be recognized leaders in COVID-19 research), infrastructure, the sustainability of the projects and the benefits to Canadians. Most importantly, “the infrastructure component must be an indispensable element of a current research project related to COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, the Future Skills Centre, based out of Ryerson University, has launched a $15-million call for proposals for “labour market innovations” that will “help build resiliency in the face of social and economic shock.” Proposals may involve research, network development or pilot projects that support in-need sectors, regions and populations respond to an evolving job market and the need for continued skills development. Applications will be accepted on an ongoing basis crom May 26 to September 1, 2020, with funding decisions announced within a month after an application is received.

Memorial, U of Lethbridge offer incoming first-years early credit options

Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador is joining some New Brunswick universities in offering incoming first-year students the chance to complete some courses before fall term even starts. The university has created a special spring semester for high school students heading to any postsecondary institution this September. The 10-week term runs June 4 to August 12 and will offer 14 for-credit courses in business administration, humanities, social sciences, science, fine arts, human kinetics and recreation, music, social work, and environmental studies. Tuition fees for a single course range from about $380 for students in Newfoundland and Labrador to more than $1,200 for international students.

“This spring is an ideal time for new, first-year students to take a credit course and to get a head start on their university studies,” said Memorial president Vianne Timmons in a video message announcing the new offerings. “To complement these credit courses, we will also roll out a suite of non-credit courses that will help new incoming students transition to university life and get set for success – expect more to come on that very soon.”

The university also noted that this spring semester offers prospective students the chance to “get an idea of what to expect from the remote teaching and learning experience that will be offered at Memorial during fall semester.”

On April 28, we reported that the Government of New Brunswick opened intersession courses at public universities to graduating high school students. Between the University of New Brunswick, St. Thomas University, Université de Moncton and Mount Allison University, incoming students have access to more than 60 courses.

In a similar vein, the University of Lethbridge has transitioned its Early Start Experience, a sort of bridging course that first-year students can take for course credit, to an online format. Administered by the university’s school of liberal education, the two-week course offers students the chance to “develop the skills and resources needed to succeed at university and learn how to build social networks with a diverse group of fellow students. They learn how to do research, write for university-level courses, study effectively and access all the resources available to them. Especially valuable right now, new students will also learn how to manage and do well in online courses.”

Quebec opens additional med school spots

Quebec’s government announced last week that it would increase the number of spots in medical schools in response to a critical shortage of physicians in that province – a gap that has been exacerbated by the current health crisis. The province will allow for an additional 139 students to enroll in the province’s medical programs over the next three years. The gradual roll-out of this new policy means that by year three, the total number of incoming medical students will sit at 969. For the upcoming academic year, the province has allowed for 62 students from outside of the province to register for medical programs in Quebec.

Something nice

With June a few days away and nicer weather settling in across most of Canada, it might get difficult to stay motivated while working from home. McGill University recently offered a webinar on the topic with alumna Nasreen Khatri, a renowned clinical psychologist, who had the following advice:

  • Maintain structure and routine
  • Set small, daily goals
  • Establish a buddy system
  • Get enough sleep
  • Take care of your health
  • Practice gratitude

Read a summary of Dr. Khatri’s tips at McGill News.

May 25, 2020

StatCan releases data on postsecondary student employment

Statistics Canada has released employment-related results from the crowdsourced data-collection questionnaire it ran for postsecondary students from April 19 to May 1. The agency found that out of 100,000 postsecondary students who responded to the questionnaire, about one-third reported having a work placement cancelled or delayed due to COVID-19, with students in services/trades and health care programs faring worse than others. A very high number of students (86 percent) whose placements had been disrupted said they were “very or extremely concerned about the impact of the pandemic on their personal finances,” while 72 percent of students who did not have a disrupted work placement said the same.

Among the prospective graduates who had a placement cancelled or delayed, 52 percent said they were “very or extremely concerned that their credential would be considered less valuable than the credentials of graduates unaffected by COVID-19.”

Cybersecurity experts issue joint statement on contact tracing apps

At his daily briefing on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated that the federal government would soon endorse the use of an app for contact-tracing COVID-19 cases. He said that lifting travel restrictions and reopening business and workplaces across the country will not only require the government to boost capacity for virus testing, it will also need a robust system for identifying outbreak hotspots and for tracking people who may have been in contact with an infected individual. A soon-to-be-released app can help with this task, he said.

Contact tracing apps use a mobile device’s Bluetooth capability to emit a personalized, anonymous signal and to register the signals of other users in the vicinity. The app compares those signals against a database of registered users and sends you a notification if any of those signals have been associated with a case of COVID-19.

Following the prime minister’s briefing, 71 cybersecurity researchers from 17 Canadian universities released a joint statement asking that governments subject any contact tracing app to a thorough and public “technical review by independent security and privacy experts.” Reviews “help identify potential flaws and provide indispensable input to a public debate about the balance between health safety, privacy and security. Reviews can enhance trust in the deployment of apps and help foster wider adoption. Reviews should be public because public technical specifications will enhance trust and acceptance.”

The statement includes 10 principles the government and tech companies should follow for developing a releasing contact tracing apps. Among the list’s suggestions, it includes independent reviews, simple design and minimal functionality, and strict rules for data collection and distribution.

The statement is an initiative of the National Cybersecurity Consortium, a collective of cybersecurity scholars co-led by the University of New Brunswick, the University of Calgary, Concordia University, the University of Waterloo and Ryerson University.

IRCC will accept some incomplete applications for study permit, post-grad work permit

According to CIC News, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada will accept study permit applications that are missing information due to pandemic-related service disruptions. Specifically, they will not refuse applications missing biometric data, medical exams and/or original travel documents. The applications will remain open until supporting documents can be obtained. Similar allowances are being made for applicants to the Post-Graduation Work Permit who are unable to get a letter of completion or final transcript from their school.

UBC researchers prototype biodegradable medical mask

Researchers with the University of British Columbia’s BioProducts Institute designed an N95 mask made entirely in Canada and from fully compostable and biodegradable materials. The frame is made of wood fibres from B.C. softwoods such as pine, spruce and cedar. The researchers have prototyped a version of the mask fitted with a commercial N95 filter and another with a UBC-designed filter made from wood-based products. The researchers plan to seek Health Canada certification after a testing period.

“With millions of disposable masks and gloves already polluting city sidewalks and potentially entering our rivers and oceans, we urgently need a biodegradable option to avoid making a massive impact on our environment,” says Johan Foster, a chemical and biological engineering associate professor in the faculty of applied science at UBC who co-designed the mask.

Free CAHSPR conference looks at post-COVID health care

What does the future have in store for Canada’s health system post-COVID? That will be the starting point for discussions at this year’s annual conference for the Canadian Association for Health Services and Policy Research. Starting on Wednesday, May 27, the two-day conference will take place online and includes speakers such as Vivek Goel, vice-president, research and innovation, and strategic initiatives at the University of Toronto, and André Picard, health reporter for the Globe and Mail. Registration for the conference is free.

Something nice

University of Manitoba medical students have been volunteering as family liaisons in intensive-care units at hospitals across Winnipeg. In these roles, students use donated iPads to organize and facilitate videoconferencing between ICU patients and their loved ones around the world while visitor restrictions are in place due to COVID-19. Not only do the video calls improve patient mental health, they also keep families in touch with medical teams seeking input on treatment decisions while a patient is incapacitated. “As a future physician, I’ve learned the importance of having that contact with patients and their families and developing those relationships,” says one student volunteer.

May 22, 2020

ON reveals recipients of rapid research funding

The Government of Ontario has announced the recipients of the province’s rapid research funding for projects related to COVID-19. The fund stands at $20 million and, so far, will support 15 projects that will investigate issues such as high-speed COVID-19 testing, vaccine development, the state of food retail businesses, the impact on homeless and low-income populations in Ottawa, and treating COVID-19 using the antibodies of patients who have recovered from the disease. The principal investigators on these projects are based out of McMaster University, the University of Toronto, the University of Guelph, Western University, the University of Ottawa, Sick Kids Hospital, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Lawson Health Research Institute, and St Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. Details on each project are available on the Government of Ontario’s website. The province will announce additional funding recipients in the coming weeks.

ON premier commends universities, minister says hybrid learning “best-case scenario”

Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano revealed the list of rapid research funding winners at the province’s daily COVID-19 briefing yesterday. After the announcement, the minister was asked by a reporter if he would consider issuing a directive to postsecondary institutions in the province to proceed exclusively with online learning options this fall. Mr. Romano responded: “We’re looking at a number of different options.”

The minister added that he’s been having “very frequent conversations” with institution presidents and the approach they’re collectively taking is to “hope for the best but prepare for the worst.” The best-case scenario, he said, would be a hybrid model involving both virtual and in-person instruction. Mr. Romano said that the emphasis in these conversations has been to ensure “that programs that can be delivered online are delivered virtually.”

The minister also acknowledged that some undergraduate, technical and professional programs as well as certain graduate programs require a significant amount of hands-on or lab-based learning. In these exceptional cases, the ministry is working with institutions on a model for in-person instruction. He said that this proposal will be brought to the province’s chief medical officer for feedback.

Mr. Ford ended the press briefing by commending Mr. Romano for his work with the postsecondary sector during the crisis. The premier noted that Mr. Romano had reported that in a matter of weeks, institutions in the province had moved approximately 100,000 courses online – a transition that would normally take 10 years, he said. Mr. Ford also offered kudos to the province’s postsecondary institutions. “I brag about you everywhere I go. … I have all the faith in all the colleges and universities that you’ll be able to help us come up with a vaccine.”

“A shout out to all the students out there,” Mr. Ford added. “You guys are champions.”

QC premier aims to have students in the classroom this fall

Meanwhile, the Quebec government has a very different vision of a best-case scenario for fall term at institutions in that province. The Montreal Gazette reports that the province anticipates students “of all education levels” will be back in the classroom in September. The scenario comes from a working document obtained by the newspaper.

This stance is supported by comments made by Premier François Legault during his daily COVID-19 press briefings on Thursday. “Given where we are at in the pandemic, if we respect the rules, I think there’s a good chance all students will be able to physically be present in school, CEGEP and university when back to school happens in September. It’s what we should aim for,” he said.

40 jobs lost at MRU

Mount Royal University has cut 40 positions due to budget compressions made worse by the pandemic. CBC reports that university president Tim Rahilly alerted staff to the job losses in an email on Thursday. “Each of these employees contributed in many ways to the success of students, and it is difficult to see them go. The process was handled as compassionately as possible, given that people are working remotely,” he told staff. He added that the university has to find ways to lower costs over the next three years.

MRU joins several other public universities in Alberta that have announced job reductions during the pandemic. As previously reported, the University of Lethbridge cut more than 29 jobs. The University of Alberta negotiated a “letter of understanding” with the university’s Non-Academic Staff Association and issued temporary layoffs of support staff for up to 120 days. U of A president David Turpin said in a blog post that he anticipated a loss of about 1,000 jobs at the institution in total.

The province has been pushing for cuts in “non-essential” operating and staff costs at about 100 government departments, postsecondary institutions and Crown corporations. The province also decided to go ahead a performance-based funding model for universities, which it is slated to introduce this month.

Something nice

The University of Regina choir put on its first virtual performance this week. They performed Pierre Passereau’s “Il est bel et bon,” which the university’s concert choir and chamber singers had been practicing for an end-of-semester concert.

May 21, 2020

King’s University College to open residences for Sept.

Not only is King’s University College at Western University preparing for a fall term of blended learning, it’s getting ready to welcome students into residence come September. In order to meet physical distancing requirements, the university is adapting its residences halls into single-occupancy accommodations only, with each resident assigned a bathroom. The institution has also extended the deadline for room deposit refunds to August 31.

Live Q&A with university presidents on CdnPSE after COVID-19

Four university presidents will participate in a virtual forum today about the impact of COVID-19 on Canadian higher education. Hosted by Ryerson University’s Modern Literature and Culture Research Centre, the Q&A will include Ryerson’s Mohamed Lachemi, the University of Winnipeg’s Annette Trimbee, David Sylvester from the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, and Jean-Paul Boudreau of Mount Allison University. The conversation starts at 4:15 EST. Register by emailing admin@mlc.ryerson.ca.

Carleton releases findings on perceptions of post-lockdown policy and misinformation

Media researchers at Carleton University have released new data that provides insight into public perceptions of different aspects of the pandemic. A survey of 2,000 Canadians conducted by the school of journalism and communication and funded by the faculty of public affairs found that nearly half of Canadians (46 percent) believed at least one of four widespread conspiracy theories about COVID-19.

The most popular among respondents was the myth that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was engineered in a Chinese lab and released into the general population (believed by 26 percent of participants). About 23 percent believe the unproven claim popularized by Donald Trump that hydroxychloroquine and other drugs are effective against COVID-19; 11 percent incorrectly believe that COVID-19 is a cover-up for illnesses caused by 5G networks; and 17 percent believe the myth that regularly rinsing your nose with a saline solution can help protect individuals from coronavirus infection. More than half (57 percent) also believe they can “easily distinguish conspiracy theories and misinformation from factual information about COVID-19.” The results also drilled into demographic trends, including age and geographic locations.

“I was floored by the overconfidence Canadians have in their own ability to distinguish conspiracy theories and misinformation,” said Sarah Everts, CTV Chair in Digital Science Journalism at Carleton, and a co-researcher on the study. “Everyone has fallen prey at some point to misinformation on social media. Anyone who thinks that it’s easy to distinguish conspiracy theories and misinformation is at high risk of being fooled.”

In that same survey, the researchers measured public perceptions of the post-lockdown measures being introduced by governments across the country. The vast majority of respondents (79 percent) agreed with the statement: “It is more important to minimize avoidable illness and death than to reopen the economy too quickly,” while 21 percent expressed a preference for “getting the economy going again, even if that leads to more illness and death.”

“Our findings suggest that Canadians have no appetite for moving quickly and want their leaders in government, the health sector and business to move with an abundance of caution,” says co-investigator Josh Greenberg.

Have your say on post-pandemic policy

Further west, another research team is also seeking public perceptions of pandemic decision-making, but these scholars are looking for public solutions, too. Researchers from the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of Guelph are recruiting residents of British Columbia to contribute their thoughts on policy decisions as governments begin to ease pandemic-related restrictions. The team is hosting a series of 90-minute online discussions to gauge what British Columbians “value, what you want and what you need, so that decision-makers can consider your recommendations as we take the next steps in our pandemic response.” The first session will address the pros and cons of contact-tracing apps. Once the sessions are over, the researchers will compile the public input received into a report for government officials.

Prez rez goes on the market

The University of Regina is selling the president’s residence. The CBC reports that a house owned by the university and reserved for the university president has been put on the market. It’s typically offered as a perk to the university president, with the institution footing the $100,000-bill for maintenance on the five-bedroom, five-bathroom house located near campus. The university decided to sell the house, valued at $875,100, now as it faces revenue losses due to the current health crisis. The university says that up to $100,000 from the sale of the house will go to an emergency fund for students.

UTSC repurposes hall for crisis food distribution

Campus is closed at the University of Toronto Scarborough, but its buildings are being put to good use by the city. U of T News reports that last weekend, UTSC’s Highland Hall officially became a food packaging centre serving locals in need. CARES (Collective Action and Response for Everyone in Scarborough) sees UTSC and the City of Toronto partnering with disaster-relief organization GlobalMedic to collect, package and distribute items to food banks around Scarborough and the Durham region. Volunteers at the centre repackage food staples delivered in bulk by GlobalMedic into 500-gram bags of rice, lentils, barley, chickpeas, green peas and kidney beans. This week, the centre also started offering food hampers for contactless pick-up in a campus parking lot.

UTSC chief administrative officer Andrew Arifuzzaman co-organized the initiative with a local city councillor, staff from nearby Humber College and GlobalMedic founder Rahul Singh. The campus outlet is now one of three major GlobalMedic distribution centres in the GTA, along with Humber and the City of Brampton.

Toronto Mayor John Tory tours Highland Hall last weekend. Photo by Tara Welch.

Something nice

In response to the closure of galleries, museums and other art spaces, the Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery at the University of British Columbia has launched Everything This Changes. The site is a platform for “works of art, research projects, podcasts, interviews, conversations and events.” At the heart of this project are questions like, “In what ways have artists and thinkers prepared us for thinking about the present crisis?” and “How does the present crisis change the way we see and read?”

May 20, 2020

SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR join CAUT for town hall on research funding

Representatives from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and Canadian Institutes of Health Research will be joining the Canadian Association of University Teachers for a virtual town hall about the impact of COVID-19 on the research landscape in Canada. The talk takes place on Thursday morning at 11:30 EST and aims to provide an overview of federal and tri-agency funding measures that address the pandemic. Registration for the Zoom chat is required.

Layoffs in Lethbridge

In a press release circulated by email last week, the University of Lethbridge announced that it would temporarily lay off 145 “continuing support” staff members due to pandemic-related campus closures. The statement explains that the affected staff members “help deliver many of the important programs and services upon which the university’s students and community members rely” and that “support staff from almost all departments are affected by this decision.” While most of these employees have seen their hours reduced from full-time status, another 66 have been laid off.

U of Lethbridge president Mike Mahon says the pandemic has “drastically reduced” the university’s in-person activities. “During this time especially, the university must utilize its resources responsibly. Coupled with the significant budget cuts we are experiencing, as well as signaled future budget cuts, these temporary layoffs are regrettably necessary.”

These new layoffs follow a reduction of hours and job losses in March for 183 casual, research and student employees.

COVID-19 cases on the rise among Ontario health-care workers, lab techs

Ontario is seeing a significant increase in COVID-19 cases among health-care professionals, and front-line workers and lab technicians. An article published by the CBC on May 15 reported that 17 percent of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in the province had been identified in health-care workers – some 3,607 cases in total. In early April, the number of infected health-care workers accounted for about 10 percent of all cases in Ontario. According to public health data provided to the CBC by the province, nurses have been worst hit (714 cases). Physicians were a distant second with 76 cases, followed by first responders (70 cases) and lab technicians (41 cases). About 2,700 cases were reported among a variety of roles, such as hospital cleaning staff, respiratory therapists and personal support workers.

Christine Nielsen, CEO of the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science, noted that protective equipment alone won’t keep front-line staff safe – even highly-trained professionals make mistakes while removing PPE. “You can’t see a virus; it’s not like blood,” she told the CBC.

Varsity sports in limbo for most provinces

If universities opt to maintain remote course delivery and keep campuses closed in the fall term, what does that mean for varsity athletics and more than 900 coaches employed by U Sports? Some provinces are preserving some form of varsity leagues, while others are taking a wait-and-see approach. In a recent article, the Canadian Press looks at what university sports could look like next term under the shadow of the pandemic.

In the meantime, U Sports has been rebroadcasting major matches from seasons past under the banner U Sports “Live.” This week features the 2011 women’s hockey championship between McGill University and St. Francis Xavier University. ﷟HYPERLINK “https://usports.live/”

NL grant encourages students to work with isolated seniors

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador has launched a grant program to employ students with organizations that serve seniors and other vulnerable populations that have been isolated during the pandemic. A total of $300,000 has been set aside for grants of $3,500 to cover eight weeks of employment at $12 an hour in such fields as food delivery and technology support. The grant is open to employers in the private sector, not-for-profit sector and municipalities.

The complexities behind tuition cuts and pass/fail grades

Yesterday we told you about some efforts by students to persuade universities to issue refunds on the previous winter term and to reduce fees for the upcoming fall term. Yahoo Canada, with some input from Alex Usher of Higher Education Strategy Associates, has published an explainer on why tuition reductions and refunds aren’t as straightforward as they may seem. In short, universities probably couldn’t afford to issue widespread refunds even if they wanted to.

Another contentious point for students since campus lockdowns has been the decision by many universities to issue (often by request) pass/fail grades for the 2020 winter term. Kwame Anthony Appiah tackles the issue in his latest “The Ethicist” column in the New York Times.

A student from an American liberal arts college that elected for an opt-in pass/fail grading system for the past term wrote in saying they believe that students should act in solidarity and opt for the credit/no credit option across the board. Those who opt for the standard grading system and GPA are “morally wrong,” the student argues. Dr. Appiah, a philosophy professor at New York University, responds to the letter-writer suggesting that with so many institutions offering the pass/fail option, graduate schools and professional post-graduate programs will surely have to take these grades into consideration when making admissions decisions. Moreover, challenging the pass/fail system really doesn’t get to the heart of inequity in higher education and maybe the student’s efforts are misplaced, he adds. “I see why you think that there’s an unfairness in the way that your college has chosen to respond. But given that the policy doesn’t significantly increase the unfairness in the system taken as a whole, I wonder if your proposed solidarity movement is aimed at the right target.”

Dr. Appiah’s reply trades on some tired generalizations about privileged and less-privileged students, but the short column offers a thoughtful response all the same.

Something nice

Looking for a mask to wear during essential activities, like grocery shopping or picking up a prescription? Making your own cotton, tie-up mask is easier than you think – all you really need is a tea towel, bed sheet, sewing machine a few sewing odds and ends. Danielle Martin, a faculty member with Ryerson University’s school of fashion, demonstrates the process in a video posted by the university.

Dr. Martin and her colleagues in the faculty of communication and design came up with the pattern for these masks while prototyping options for Toronto health-care providers. (The pattern and instructions are also available in French on Dr. Martin’s personal website.) The fashion professor leveraged some contacts at a bridalwear company and clothing retailers, including Simon’s, to produce more than 4,000 of these masks for St. Michael’s Hospital and Michael Garron Hospital.

May 19, 2020

Students attempt to sue 15 universities in Quebec

CTV News is reporting that a group of students from 15 Quebec universities have applied to file a class-action lawsuit against the schools for a partial refund on the past term’s tuition fees. The students argue that when classes moved online or were cancelled due to the pandemic, they lost access to many services and spaces that their fees help to pay for. “The class action is meant to compensate students for the services they didn’t get,” says attorney Elodie Drolet-French.

The universities named in the dispute are HEC Montréal, l’École nationale d’administration publique (ENAP), l’École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS), l’Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), Polytechnique Montréal, Bishop’s University, Concordia University, Laval University, l’Université de Montréal, l’Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, l’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, l’Université du Québec à Montréal, l’Université du Québec en Outaouais, l’Université du Québec à Rimouski and l’Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières.

For weeks, students in various provinces have been seeking fee refunds to compensate for a disruption in campus services. Several institutions issued partial refunds for residence and dining services early on. And while this appears to be the first legal action attempted by students in light of pandemic-related campus closures in this country, student groups in the United States have brought more than 75 class action lawsuits against their institutions.

CAUT offers guidelines for reopening campus

The Canadian Association of University Teachers released a set of guidelines to aid in reopening Canadian university campuses for the upcoming academic year. The organization asks that institutions’ joint health and safety committees and academic staff associations be included in the decision-making processes; that these committees and associations come up with adequate considerations around physical distancing measures on campus, PPE for staff and students, and procedures to mitigate risk in the event of an infection on campus; that institutions offer accommodations to academic staff who are at high-risk for infection or whose caregiving responsibilities require them to stay home; that changes to instructional modes and methods be negotiated with teaching staff associations; and that teaching staff be adequately compensated for additional preparations or instruction time needed during remote teaching, among other considerations.

Dal to jointly host first Canadian clinical trial for COVID vaccine

We first told you about the partnerships between Chinese vaccine-maker CanSino, the National Research Council of Canada and Dalhousie University’s Canadian Center for Vaccinology on May 12. Since then, Health Canada has approved clinical trials for a potential COVID-19 vaccine to take place soon at the centre. It will be the first clinical trial for a potential COVID-19 vaccine in Canada, and will begin once the trials receive ethics board approval, reports Dal News. Testing will begin on younger, healthier subjects before moving on to more at-risk populations.

An estimated 28M surgeries impacted by COVID-19

A team of international researchers, including faculty members at Western University, estimates that more than 28 million elective procedures, approximately 72 percent of planned surgeries worldwide, will be cancelled or postponed this year due to the pandemic. They came to this prediction based on a model that used information from surgeons at 359 hospitals in 71 countries. If surgery cancellations and postponements continue for 12-week period in Canada, it will mean 394,576 cancelled surgeries, including 27,390 cancer procedures. The researchers figure it will take 11 months to clear the backlog of procedures in Canada. A summary of the results, originally published in the British Journal of Surgery, is available on the Western News website.

The Lancet fact-checks Trump

The Lancet took the unusual move to fact-check U.S. President Donald Trump via Twitter today. The day before, the president addressed a letter to the World Health Organization general-director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that criticizes the agency’s response to COVID-19. It specifically criticizes the WHO for “ignoring credible reports” about the virus in Wuhan, China, as early as December 2019, including reports published in The Lancet. The problem is, no such research was published in the respected medical journal last year, and the publication was quick to point that out to the president. The journal published an official rebuttal on Twitter this morning, which bluntly says, “This statement is factually incorrect.”

Something nice

A recession is a great time to go back to school. Governments must help make that possible,” says editorial board at the Globe and Mail.

May 15, 2020

Feds promise $450M to avoid lab layoffs

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced this morning that the federal government will provide universities and research institutions with $450 million in order to keep researchers on staff. Part of the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, this new money will provide research institutions with temporary wage relief of up to 75 percent (or, up to $847 per week) for each staff member who’s had their industry or philanthropic funding reallocated or stall due to the pandemic.

The government will also cover up to 75 percent of “total eligible costs” related to maintain essential research-related activities, like safe handling and storage of dangerous materials, during campus and lab closures. It will also contribute to restarting “full research operations once physical distancing measures are lifted.”

The government says this measure should help some 15,000 academic researchers and lab workers who’ve seen their regular research activities ground to a halt.

University Affairs will report on this funding program as details come out in the coming days.

IRCC relaxes work permit rules for international students

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has temporarily eased some of the rules for international students seeking post-graduate work permits. According to IRCC, international students will be eligible for a post-graduation work permit even if their courses remain online this fall due to COVID-19. Students can begin courses and complete up to 50 percent of their program outside of Canada if they are unable to travel due to restrictions. Normally, IRCC deducts time spent studying outside of Canada from the work permit period, but that won’t be the case for coursework completed abroad up to December 31, 2020.

The agency estimates that international students contributed $21.6 billion to Canada’s GDP and support nearly 170,000 jobs in 2018. Nearly 54,000 people who studied at Canadian institutions as international students became permanent residents in 2018.

COVID-19 Immunity Task Force partners with CIHR to issue funding

As part of its $1.1-billion research strategy to combat COVID-19, the federal government launched the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force to oversee research on the scope of the infection and immunity in Canada. The task force, led by former University of Toronto president David Naylor, has now teamed up with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to issue additional grants under the COVID-19 May 2020 Rapid Research competition. That competition closed earlier this week and received more than 1,500 applications for funding.

In a statement on its website, CIHR explains how the partnership will work:

“To maximize efficiency and speed the response to COVID-19 in Canada, all grants currently submitted in the May 2020 Rapid Research competition will be adjudicated per usual through CIHR to ensure consistency and excellence in peer review. For those grants that are determined by peer review to be fundable – and that fall partly or fully within the early priorities of the Immunity Task Force – funding may be shared between CIHR and the Task Force or be assumed fully by the Task Force, thus mitigating the need for further review.”

The task force will also put out a separate call for project submissions in the coming weeks.

More plans for fall 2020

This week, we reported on some of the fall plans that Canadian universities have released so far. In the days since we published that story, many more universities have announced their intentions for the coming school year.

  • All large classes at the University of Waterloo will take place online for the entire fall term, though tutorials and labs may take place in person.
  • The term at Queen’s University will largely take place online for most students and faculty members, with a limited number of undergraduate and graduate programs offered in person.
  • Mount Saint Vincent University “will shift to online course delivery for the fall 2020 semester.”
  • Concordia University confirmed “the fall 2020 term will be delivered almost entirely online, accessible anytime, from anywhere in the world. The vast majority of our faculty and staff will continue to work from home for the foreseeable future.”
  • While noting that “a quality learning environment is a safe learning environment,” the University of Alberta said the majority of classes will run remotely, although “where possible, we are committed to providing small group in-person learning and experiential learning such as labs and clinical instruction, especially in those programs where in-person instruction is essential.”
  • The University of Calgary will also run most of its courses remotely, but it was a bit more specific in its plans for small-group instruction on campus: “To allow the maintenance of appropriate physical distancing, we are aiming to have approximately 30 percent of our students on each of our campuses at any one time. Priority will be given to small classes and experiential learning opportunities such as labs, tutorials, and seminars.”

Academica is now tracking fall announcements as they are released.

Inquiring minds want to know: Where’d you learn to make that quarantini?

From sourdough loaves and focaccia gardens, to whipped coffee and “quarantinis,” self-isolation has changed the food and drink (and food- and drink-related media) we’re consuming – and researchers at Saint Mary’s University and the University of Antwerp want to know how. To that end, a team including SMU psychology professor Maryanne Fisher is collecting data through a multi-national survey to gauge cooking, eating, shopping and food media habits during the pandemic. The survey, available in English, French and Dutch, is online now.

Something nice: Pixar vibes

Care to see a student teacher wail on a clarinet? Then we’ve got just the thing: a video of a group of students, faculty, and alumni from the University of Windsor recreating Randy Newman’s theme from the film Monsters, Inc. It’s a jaunty tune to kick off a long weekend in Canada.

May 14, 2020

Ryerson’s Yellowhead Institute challenges ISC’s COVID case count

Research by the Yellowhead Institute suggests the number of COVID-19 cases in Indigenous communities is three times what Indigenous Services Canada has reported. Researchers working with the think tank reviewed public data such as media reports, band council updates to members and obituaries, to establish a more accurate number. As of May 12, the team counted an estimated 465 cases in 42 communities and seven possible deaths, while ISC reported 184 confirmed cases and two deaths.

Part of the difference comes down to the fact that ISC is only reporting on-reserve cases from five provinces, the Yellowhead Institute explained in its post.

“There is no agency or organization in Canada reliably recording and releasing COVID-19 data that indicates whether or not a person is Indigenous. The public health agencies that report on the number of COVID-19 cases, deaths, recovery, and tests vary in their structure and relationship to local Indigenous people and their communities. And since very few First Nations actually have local control over the delivery of public health, the majority rely on provincial public health services, regardless of whether or not they live on-reserve. Many public services that Indigenous peoples access do not collect disaggregated data that includes racial or ethnic identity of clients, which makes it almost impossible for any racialized community to seek accountability for poorer outcomes or service based on racial discrimination.”

The think tank, based out of Ryerson University, says their results are supported by an admission by ISC that the federal department had insufficient information to adequately respond to the pandemic in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. In an interview with the CBC, report author Courtney Skye said there “are likely more cases” out there.

More on COVID-19 and Indigenous students, communities

On the same day that it released its report, the Yellowhead Institute also posted an episode of the Heartberry podcast, which it produces, by two postsecondary students who recount their experience of living on-reserve during the pandemic while finishing their courses online.

Meanwhile, Indigenous students at the University of Northern British Columbia and three B.C. colleges will receive additional supports thanks to a grant from the Mastercard Foundation. The four institutions are working together to expand student counselling support, create employment opportunities for students, and to develop a “last-mile connectivity technology project to ensure students are able to access online programming.” According to a press release from UNBC, “each institution will develop employment opportunities focused on investigating how to address the challenge of isolation, lack of [internet] connectivity, and the resultant barriers and challenges for students. The student employees will also explore best practices and learning models that work well in this context.”

For additional information on how the current crisis is impacting Indigenous peoples, check out the daily news round-up posted to the website for kitatipithitamak mithwayawin, an Indigenous-led planning and response project funded by CIHR’s COVID-19 rapid response program. The team leading the project will discuss their work during a webinar on May 26.

Reduced grants to MB universities and staff layoffs

The University of Winnipeg will see its 2020-21 operating budget cut by under four percent, or $2.3 million. The Winnipeg Free Press reports that the institution will ultimately face a total loss of $6.3 million due to COVID-19. The 2019-2020 budget stood at $144 million. U of Winnipeg president Annette Trimbee told the newspaper that the institution is looking into “non-salary” staffing cuts as well as an expansion of program offerings to mitigate the budget cut and the loss in revenue. This news comes weeks after the provincial government asked publicly funded postsecondary institutions to prepare scenarios for budget cuts of anywhere for three to 10 percent.

Yesterday, University of Manitoba president David Barnard released a statement on the province’s clawbacks to postsecondary operating grants. He notes that while the university is waiting on official word about a reduction in money provided by the province, the Minister of Economic Development and Training, Ralph Eichler had signaled a cut of five percent, or $17.3 million. The province has also indicated that up to four percent of that reduction will only apply for the upcoming budget year, however the operating grant to U of Manitoba will be reduced by at least one percent going forward.

“We have already had to make some difficult decisions as we respond to work disruptions, revenue losses, and increased costs resulting from the global pandemic. We must continue to work together now to address additional pressures put on our budget as a result of this significant cut,” he writes.

To address this budget shortage, the university is considering cutting back discretionary spending, a hiring freeze, voluntary reductions to work weeks and layoffs.

While the situation hasn’t become quite so dire in Ontario, institutions in that province are also dealing with revenue shortfalls. Queen’s University, for one, has recently placed three members of its residence staff on a temporary layoff.

PSEWeb conference moves online

Do you work in marketing and communications, web programming, web design or digital engagement at a postsecondary institution? Then you might be interested to know that the PSEWeb conference is a go for this year. The national conference, which was originally scheduled to take place in Montreal at McGill University, will now happen online from July 14 to 15. The organization will host 40-minute presentations by folks working in advancement, recruitment, social media strategy, user experience designers and more. The price for tickets has been reduced for this year.

Something nice: McMaster’s new virtual first-year transition program

McMaster University has developed a new transition program for incoming first-year students. Called Archway, the program will connect each first-year student to a designated staff support person (an “Archway coach”) and an upper-year student peer mentor to answer questions and offer personalized recommendations for resources. The program also aims to create a sense of community and connection by placing each student into a cohort of about 30 other new students with similar interests.

Welcome to the archway from McMaster University (OFFICIAL) on Vimeo.

May 13, 2020

Before we dive into today’s update, a quick note. We recently sent an email to University Affairs magazine subscribers alerting them to a disruption in our publishing schedule. Due to complications arising from the pandemic, we won’t be producing a May-June issue of the magazine (print and digital), which would’ve been arriving in mailboxes and inboxes this week. We plan to return to our regular schedule with the July-August issue – we’re already hard at work on fascinating stories about open science, Canada’s new university in the North, and, of course, COVID-19.

In the meantime, we’ll continue publishing timely and original news, opinion, career advice and job postings to our website every weekday, including our daily Media Scan and, for now, these COVID-19 updates. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to keep up with our latest content and subscribe to our magazine (it’s free!) to get the next issue delivered to your home or office. (And if you’re already a subscriber, thank you!) You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

And now, to the update!

CESB applications open Friday

The federal government will open applications to the Canada Emergency Student Benefit this Friday. The prime minister confirmed the start date today. The CESB bill passed in the House of Commons late last month. This week, the Canada Revenue Agency, which will administer payments, has been encouraging prospective applicants to prepare by registering with the department online.

CESB aims to replace students’ lost summer income at $1,250 a month from May to August. Those who are also providing care for someone, or who have a disability will receive $2,000 a month. Current students, students beginning their studies in September 2020, and those who graduated after December 2019 are eligible for the program. Read our previous coverage of the new CESB program here.

Goodbye Congress 2020, Hello Virtual Conference Week

Congress may be cancelled this year, but the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences won’t let that stop the meeting of minds. Instead, the federation will help organize what they’re calling “Virtual Conference Week” for four scholarly associations.

From June 1 to 5, the Canadian Society of Church History, the Environmental Studies Association of Canada, the Association for Nonprofit and Social Economy Research and the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English will host a few online plenaries, keynotes and celebrations. Conference agendas and a list of public events are available now on the Virtual Conference Week website.

CSPC launches online interview series tomorrow with Quebec’s chief scientist

The Canadian Science Policy Centre has previously announced that it will move its annual conference online (the deadline for panel proposals has just been extended to June 12). It’s getting a head-start on the virtual event with a new online interview series. The series starts Thursday, with CSPC president Mehrdad Hariri speaking live over Zoom with Rémi Quirion, Quebec’s chief scientist, about government pandemic responses.

The interview starts at 9 a.m. Eastern. Registration required.

University cancels international travel for rest of 2020

The Univeristy of Ottawa has banned all university-related international travel through to the end of the year, effectively cancelling study-abroad and exchanges for the fall term. The Fulcrum, the university’s student publication, reported on the details of an email sent to students from the institution’s international office last week. Students set to take off to international study destinations this school year have instead been offered a variety of alternatives, including postponing travel until the winter term, taking online courses through their intended institution, or cancelling the study-abroad trip.

Something nice: Happy birthday edition

Staff at the Centre universitaire de santé McGill (McGill University Health Centre) in Montreal helped a patient recovering from COVID-19 celebrate her 92nd birthday. Bonne fête Mme Benoît!

May 12, 2020

StatCan, CAUT and CFS release new data on students’ pandemic experience

Statistics Canada has just published findings from its second questionnaire on how postsecondary students have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The crowdsourced answers from more than 100,000 students suggest that most respondents (57 percent) experienced a significant disruption in their courses and academic work placements. More than one-quarter (26 percent) said that some of their courses were postponed or cancelled by their institutions, including activities that can’t be offered online, such as labs.

The results from students who were to graduate this year were particularly concerning. Some 17 percent of students in the final year of their programs said they wouldn’t be able to complete the degree, diploma or certificate as planned. And the majority of prospective graduating students (54 percent) also reported “that they were very or extremely concerned that their degree, diploma or certificate would not be considered equivalent to those whose studies were not affected by COVID-19.”

The students who responded saw a huge drop in employment opportunities. Among those who held a job at the beginning of March, 21 percent had lost it while 34 percent had been laid off two months later. Many had lost hours. As well, 31 percent who were counting on a job starting this spring or summer had lost that opportunity, while another 40 percent said their start date had been delayed. Understandably, many students reported concerns about future job prospects, too: 58 percent said they are “very or extremely concerned” about losing their job, and 67 percent are “very or extremely concerned about having no job prospects in the near future.” They are also concerned about paying for future school expenses and living costs.

The survey ran from April 19 to May 1, during which time the federal government announced the Canada Emergency Student Benefit. That announcement on April 22 did have an impact on student responses:

“Overall, following the announcement of the CESB, the proportion of returning students who reported that they were very or extremely concerned about their finances decreased across all categories. Despite this decline, a notable number still reported significant concerns. For example, prior to the announcement of the CESB, 73 percent of participants indicated that they were very or extremely concerned about using up their savings. This declined to 61 percent following the announcement.

Similarly, the proportion of participants with significant concerns about paying for tuition next term, increasing their student debt or paying for current expenses declined by 10 to 14 percentage points after the announcement of the CESB, with between 44 percent and 47 percent of students reporting they were very or extremely concerned about each of these issues.”

The Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Canadian Federation of Students also released new data about students’ pandemic experience that tracks with the StatCan findings. The groups released summary results of a joint survey that found some 75 percent of respondents planning on returning to or starting postsecondary school in September are worried that remotely taught courses will offer a “poor learning experience.”

Among the survey’s findings: seven out of 10 said their summer jobs have been “negatively affected” by the pandemic; 30 percent of returning and new students would reconsider enrolling in postsecondary this fall; half say the crisis has made tuition and living costs harder to afford; more than two-thirds say their personal finances and those of their parents or family have been affected. The survey ran from April 23 to May 1, with a total of 1,100 high school and postsecondary students in Canada responding.

Reporting on the survey results, the Toronto Star spoke to a graduating high school student who is now thinking of taking a gap year instead of starting her first year at McMaster University this fall. According to the student’s mother, her daughter is less keen to head to university while physical distancing measures are still in effect since it would mean “missing out on the full spectrum of opportunities in the first year.”

NRC partners with Chinese company, VIDO-InterVac for vaccine

The National Research Council of Canada will collaborate with CanSino Biologics Inc., a Chinese vaccine producer, to expedite the development and production of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate. The company has already received approval to begin human trials of the candidate in China. While a few promising candidate vaccines are being tested around the world, according to the NRC the CanSino candidate is the first to enter into phase two of human clinical trials.

The collaboration builds on a previous relationship between the company and the federal agency that came out of efforts to develop an Ebola vaccine. In a media release, NRC explained that the partnership aims “to pave the way for future clinical trials in Canada, in collaboration with the Canadian Immunization Research Network at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology.” CanSino is in the process of filing an application with Health Canada to conduct a clinical trial of the vaccine candidate in Canada with the Canadian Center for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University.

A report by The Globe and Mail explains that the vaccine candidate was jointly developed by CanSino and the Chinese military’s medical research arm. NRC’s vice-president of life sciences is quoted in the Globe article: “We are going to get to evaluate it for safety and efficacy in Canada, as is being done already in China, and Canada will now be part of the front-runner story.”

Scott Halperin, the Dalhousie researcher partnering with CanSino for the possible trials, also explained to the Globe that intellectual property rights for any vaccine developed out of these tests would belong to CanSino. “Where they supply the vaccine would be their decision,” he said, but he also noted that the manufacturing agreement with NRC would essentially help to guarantee its supply in Canada.

The NRC announced that it has also partnered with the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre to develop and produce a candidate COVID-19 antigen. The USask facility has identified an antigen that will be part of a candidate vaccine against COVID-19. (VIDO-InterVac’s own vaccine research is said to be “promising.”) The collaboration involves the same proprietary biomaterial that NRC will contribute to the CanSino trials.

Something nice: wellness breaks

Working from home? You might feel more productive if you take a few pauses throughout the day – not just a lunch break, 15 minutes to absentmindedly scroll Instagram or a few minutes to help your kid connect to their class Zoom call, but a few mindful breaks in your workday. Lisa Belanger, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, suggests a coffee break that activates your senses: She takes up to 10 minutes to feel the warmth of the cup, smell the coffee, taste the blend, and gently notice than set aside any stray thoughts that might come up. “What it really is, is just being aware of where your attention is and being able to draw it to where you want it to be,” she told UCalgary News.

Find Dr. Belanger’s five tips for a wellness break on the U of Calgary site – she includes options for employees and supervisors.

May 11, 2020

McGill reopens for some research, but will maintain “remote” courses this fall

McGill University announced today that its fall term will start on time, however most courses will be delivered by “remote delivery platforms.” The university is looking into virtual options for extracurricular engagement, however it’s also preparing to offer some in-person activities, such as “small classroom-based seminars, conferences, tutorials, workshops, or reading groups as well as various campus life and engagement activities,” provided public health measures allow for them.

While several universities in Canada are issuing similar statements and plans for fall, it’s worth noting that McGill has committed its fall term to online or blended learning even as it becomes one of the first Canadian campuses – and certainly the largest to date – to reopen for select research activities this week. Sylvain Baillet, a professor of neurology and associate dean of research in McGill’s faculty of medicine, tweeted photos this morning of what that return to work looks like:

CIHR scraps clarification on application requirements for COVID-19 funding

On Friday, we told you about the clarification issued by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research about the application process for its “Operating Grant: COVID-19 May 2020 Rapid Research Funding Opportunity” that “fell flat” with prospective applicants. Hours later, the granting council published an update scrapping that clarification and an apology for making the process more difficult for some just a few days before the application deadline.

“[We] will fully revert to the community’s common understanding of the objectives that were outlined when the funding opportunity was launched. As such, all applications that meet any of the objectives will be considered by the peer reviewers, regardless of whether they meet a single objective or any combination of the five overarching objectives. As always, we will rely on the peer review process to determine which applications merit funding and, to that end, we will ensure that the reviewers are also aware of this clarification.”

CIHR also extended the application deadline by 24 hours to May 12.

International survey measures student well-being

Canadian students are being asked to participate in an international survey about their well-being during the pandemic. Researchers based out of the Centre for Population, Family and Health at the University of Antwerp are recruiting student participants from 27 countries across Europe and North America as well as from South Africa to find out how decisions made by their universities have affected students’ workload, stress level, living conditions and behaviours.

According to Amélie Quesnel-Vallée, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Policies and Health Inequalities at McGill, some 25,000 students at the institution have been sent an invitation to fill out the online questionnaire. Students at Laval University and Université du Québec à Chicoutimi have also been contacted.

Globe and Mail to host webcast on PSE during pandemic

Wondering about how universities have managed the transition to online learning and what it means for the quality of univeristy education? Tomorrow, the Globe and Mail will host a webcast that touches on these questions. Moderated by Globe postsecondary education reporter Joe Friesen, the event features a discussion with Athabasca University president Neil Fassina, Bishop’s University professor (and UA columnist) Jessica Riddell, Universities Canada president Paul Davidson and Catherine Dunne, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance. You can submit questions for the group ahead of time. Registration is required.

Something nice

The law school at the University of Toronto has created 60 new research assistant positions for JD students who’ve lost employment opportunities due to the pandemic. The three-week, full-time RA jobs pay $20 per hour and are funded through the law faculty and donations. More than half of professoriate at the faculty contributed research money to help create the new positions.

May 8, 2020

Researchers push back against CIHR application update

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research has clarified details about the application process for its “Operating Grant: COVID-19 May 2020 Rapid Research Funding Opportunity” after several prospective applicants reached out with questions about the program’s objectives. In the update posted online yesterday, CIHR explained:

“CIHR’s intention was always that applications would address all five objectives included in the funding opportunity and this will be assessed as part of the review of the application. However, we recognize some clarification within objectives is required to highlight that some elements were not meant to be strictly inclusive. To ensure clarity and transparency, we have made some modifications to the funding opportunity objectives, relevance review, evaluation criteria, and how to apply sections.”

The agency also released the assessment grid that judges will use to evaluate grant applications. The agency added that applicants should clearly explain how the project aligns with these criteria and that “applications deemed not relevant to one or more criteria in the table will be withdrawn.”

With the application deadline set for May 11, some researchers took to Twitter to criticize CIHR on the timing and scope of the updates, especially considering some universities’ internal deadlines for submissions have already passed.

In response, the agency tweeted, “We see this clarification has fallen flat, and we are reconsidering our approach. More to follow shortly.”

The grant will offer up to a total of $107.9 million in project funding as part of the federal government’s suite of rapid response funding related to the pandemic.

Quebec, Ontario to collect race-based COVID-19 data

Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s national director of public health, announced on Wednesday that the province will compile race-based and other demographic data related to the spread of COVID-19 in the province. The news comes after hundreds of Quebec residents, including several health researchers and academics, signed an open letter addressed to all levels of government asking for more-detailed data collection related to the pandemic that includes statistics on sex, gender, disability, ethnocultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Mr. Arruda declined to say what information, specifically, will be collected at this time, but noted that such data will help to identify social determinants of infection and death, and any possible genetic predispositions to the illness. The province joins Toronto, which is already tracking race-based data on COVID-19, as well as Ontario, which also announced on Wednesday that it will collect this information.

For an explainer on the importance of race-based data for understanding the disease and devising public health responses to the pandemic, read our Q&A with Tanya Sharpe, who launched an Instagram Live show about COVID-19 and vulnerable communities.

More COVID-19 data

Statistics Canada has put out an updated dataset on confirmed COVID-19 cases reported by provincial and territorial health authorities from January 15 to May 6, 2020. Several Canadian researchers are also maintaining a repository for open-access epidemiological data on GitHub. They’ve also made that data available as an open-access dashboard. Want something a little slicker? Esri Canada, a GIS-software provider, is maintaining its own dashboard of Canadian pandemic-related data.

Canada tops international survey of COVID-related deaths in long-term care homes

An international group of experts in long-term care policy released research results this week in which Canada is found to have one of the highest proportions of COVID-related deaths in care homes among 14 countries studied. According to the International Long-term Care Policy Network and the Care Policy and Evaluation Centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science, 62 percent of all COVID-related deaths in this country as of May 2 have occurred in long-term care facilities, with British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta and Quebec hardest hit.

Amy Hsu, a researcher at the Bruyère Research Institute in Ottawa and a professor in the University of Ottawa’s faculty of medicine, is a co-author on the study. In an interview with the Toronto Star she explains why the situation has gotten so bad in Canada’s care facilities: “One of the things that we noticed was that a lot of people didn’t realize how many of these cases or deaths were concentrated in long-term-care homes until we started to see the fatalities in these settings. … If we actually had better transmission of that information, perhaps we would have recognized the magnitude of the problem earlier.”

Something nice: pandemic pregnancies and presidential donations

Faculty members in the University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine have created a one-stop information hub on Instagram about pregnancy and post-partum care during the pandemic. The

Pandemic Pregnancy Guide includes medical information, mental health advice and “tiny tips” from doctors at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. Describing it as a “virtual pre-natal class,” Tali Bogler says she decided to start the Instagram page with four colleagues since pregnant patients currently have fewer in-person options for support and information. “We wanted to make sure that patients seeking information had a place to go where they could learn more.”

Barry Craig, president of Huron University College at Western, and Huron political science professor Sara MacDonald, who are married, have personally donated $100,000 to Huron’s emergency student relief fund. The fund, established by the institution’s student union, had already raised $35,000 from the student government and the university college’s administration.

May 7, 2020

Update on performance-based funding

In light of the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Government of Ontario will temporarily delay the rollout of performance-based funding for postsecondary institutions, while Alberta has decided to push on with it.

Under a performance-based model, provincial governments tie a certain percentage of funds granted to a university directly to how that university measures up on certain metrics, like graduation rates and research capacity. (For a critique of performance-based funding models, read Marc Spooner’s take from October 2019.) Ontario was set to implement this approach for the 2020-21 academic year. According to the Globe and Mail, the province will shelve the new policy in order to “focus on the health and safety of students and the continuity of education” this year.

Alberta, however, should have its new policy in place by the end of May. The Globe reports: “Alberta has not yet made public the metrics it will be using in its new system but said it will do so by May 31. Laurie Chandler, a spokeswoman for Alberta’s Ministry of Advanced Education, did not say whether the metrics will be altered to reflect the changed economic circumstances brought on by the pandemic.”

B.C. releases “restart” plan with blended learning encouraged for fall

Postsecondary students in British Columbia will likely return to class with a mix of online and in-person courses this September, according to the provincial government. On Wednesday, Premier John Horgan revealed B.C.’s plan for reopening the province, which includes a full resumption of classes at all education levels in September. Students at the K-12 level will return for a “dry run” on a voluntary basis in June, before a full return to class as part of “phase 3” of the province’s “restart” plan.

According to a strategy document released by the province, the return to the physical classroom at universities and colleges will require institutions to adhere to certain new measures, including daily COVID-19 screenings for all staff and students (whatever that means), frequent cleaning of campus spaces, early arrival and self-isolation requirements for incoming international students, and explicit policies for students and staff showing symptoms of cold, flu or COVID-19. Institutions are encouraged to implement a blended learning approach to classes as a way of balancing “the need of social interaction for learning and development” against public health measures.

Manitoba to match bursary donations 1:1

Manitoba will provide more funding for students for the 2020-21 school year. The province announced yesterday that it will match dollar-for-dollar all funds raised by universities and colleges for the Manitoba Scholarship and Bursary Initiative. Typically, the province offers a dollar for every two dollars raised or donated privately to postsecondary institutions for the provincial bursary. The province has also pledged an additional $5 million to the bursary program on top of the $10 million promised in the 2020 budget. In previous years, between 13,000 to 14,700 students have been awarded bursaries.

Premier Brian Pallister said this increase comes in recognition of the exceptional financial challenges students are facing this year due to the pandemic. “We are facing the obstacles in front of us together, and it is imperative that we rely on our strong partnership with postsecondary institutions and our shared vision for access to education,” he said in a press release.

Earlier in this month the province required postsecondary institutions to submit scenarios that would see their budgets cut by at least 10 percent.

Julie Payette in conversation with Mona Nemer today

At 11:30 this morning, Governor General Julie Payette will host a livestreamed conversation with Mona Nemer, Canada’s chief science advisor, about the role of research and science advice in the midst of a pandemic. The conversation will take place over YouTube.

Something nice

Barbara Layne, foreground.

Barbara Layne, co-director of the Textiles and Materiality Cluster at Concordia University’s Milieux Institute, is leading a team of volunteer sewers to make about 2,500 non-medical fabric masks for health-care workers. Some of the masks designed and produced by the Concordia team will also be used on campus in place of medical-grade masks, which have been donated to the health-care facilities.

May 6, 2020

Canadian Science Policy Conference moves November event online

CSPC announced on Tuesday that its annual conference will take place online this year. Organizers made the decision a full six months before the event was scheduled to take place in Ottawa. The news comes with an extended call for panel submissions and a reduced registration fee. Here’s what CSPC is planning, in broad strokes:

“CSPC 2020 will feature a week-long variety of engaging and informative online sessions including panel discussions, workshops, live interviews, online networking opportunities, and even virtual exhibitions. Registered participants will have the opportunity to watch sessions live and on-demand. Live sessions will be held throughout the day, such that participants across time zones will be able to attend them.”

The theme for this year’s conference is, “New Decade, New Realities: Hindsight, Insight, Foresight.”

New tech for disinfecting spaces

The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre is testing the efficacy of a robot that disinfects spaces using ultraviolet light. The institute ordered the UV-Disinfection robot as the new coronavirus was starting to spread through Europe and China. The robot will be tested in patient and procedure rooms and will also be assessed for use in disinfecting stretchers and N-95 masks.

The Danish-made autonomous robot positions itself near “infectious hotspots” and emits concentrated UV-C ultraviolet light that reportedly breaks down the DNA structure of harmful microorganisms such as viruses.

“It is not new to disinfect with UV-C, but the combination of ultraviolet light and robotics makes this technology very interesting,” says Rami Tohme, director of infrastructure and biomedical engineering at the RI-MUHC. And though it’s not meant to replace human cleaners, he adds that the robot “can apparently achieve a higher disinfection efficiency in less time compared to existing solutions. It’s definitely worth evaluating.”

At Western University, caretakers have been equipped with electrostatic sprayers (eSprayers) to speed up the disinfecting process in campus facilities. They might look like props from Star Trek, but these sprayers are the real deal. Western explains how they work: “An electrode in the nozzle negatively charges the sprayed solution. As surfaces are either neutral or positively charged, the mist of sterilizing liquid adheres on contact. Following a 10-minute dwell time, the surface is dry and disinfected. The units hold about a litre of solution that covers 2,800 square-feet – the equivalent of about six or seven classrooms, including fixtures and furnishings.”

The sprayers were originally used to sterilize clinic and recreation centre spaces but have since been taken up by building management staff.

Research on pets and COVID-19

Infectious disease experts at the University of Calgary set up a task force to review the limited research that exists about the transmission risk between humans and domestic animals with regards to COVID-19 and other coronaviruses. As a result, the task force put together a fact sheet in response to some frequently asked questions about COVID-19 and pets. Wondering if your pet might be at risk? Check out the FAQ here.

The task force found a huge knowledge gap about coronaviruses and domestic animals, and researchers at the University of Guelph have set out to address it. Scott Weese and Dorothee Bienzle from U of G’s department of pathobiology are testing pets from households where a person has either tested positive for COVID-19, or where a person has had symptoms consistent with COVID-19. The goal is to understand how human-to-animal spread occurs, how often it happens, which animals are most susceptible and why, and how the genetic sequencing of the virus in pets compares against that of the virus in humans.  As of last week, a dozen pets had been tested. The researchers are hoping to recruit “several dozen” more pet participants.

How’d they do it?

Researchers at Western University are looking into the agility of Canada’s manufacturing sector in response to the global pandemic. From distilleries that started making batches of sanitizer to fashion labels that switched to producing non-medical masks and gowns, the goal is to find out how so many businesses were able to pivot their manufacturing processes so quickly and just how many made these kinds of pandemic-related work transitions. Psychology professor Johanna Weststar, who specializes in industrial relations and human resources, is leading the project, which is partially funded by Mitacs.

Something nice

Vancouver Island University’s G.R. Paine Horticultural Training Centre will be growing seedlings and preparing them for transplant on behalf of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. One way the society addresses food insecurity in the local community is by growing produce and selling it at a low price to community members through its Good Food Box program. As part of its emergency response to COVID-19, the group has had to double its monthly Good Food Box distribution.

May 5, 2020

How do COVID-19 tests work?

That’s a question that Mona Nemer, Canada’s chief science advisor, set out to answer on Twitter today. She posted an infographic explaining the difference between two types of tests for COVID-19. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test uses a long swab to collect a sample from the nose or throat to determine if a patient is currently infected. Serology tests require a blood sample to detect the presence of virus antibodies, which would signal a past infection. Since the tests serve different functions, both are essential in the fight against the disease.

N.S.-based COVID-19 research gets a boost

The research community in Nova Scotia will collectively invest more than $1.5 million in 40 N.S.-based research projects on COVID-19. The COVID-19 Health Research Coalition revealed which projects will receive funding yesterday. The biggest funding amount, $75,000, will be directed to Ingrid Waldron an associate professor of nursing at Dalhousie University, who is leading a study on the collection of race-based health data and its impact on access to COVID-19 testing, treatment and infection rates specifically in communities with a high proportion of Nova Scotians of African descent.

The coalition is a partnership between Dalhousie University, the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, Research Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the QEII Health Sciences Centre Foundation, the Dartmouth General Hospital Foundation, the IWK Health Centre and its foundation.

International partnership for genomic research on virus

The Canadian COVID Genomics Network, created as part of the $1.1-billion COVID-19 research plan announced by the federal government on April 23, has partnered with the COVID-19 Genomics U.K. consortium, which will share information, data and protocols that will help the Canadian group’s efforts to sequence the genomes of up to 150,000 viral samples and 10,000 patients. The U.K. network is an alliance of academic, healthcare and public health organizations working together to rapidly sequence and analyze SARS-CoV-2 virus genomes.

Brock offers flexible options for grad students

Last week, Brock University’s senate decided on a plan that will offer research-based graduate students flexible options for meeting degree requirements. Dissertation defenses and dissertation-committee meetings have already moved online, and now students will also have the option to remain enrolled in their programs, to choose “Final Stage Status” if they have already completed 75 percent of the first draft of their thesis and all coursework, or to take an “inactive” term. Details here.

Survey of North American students about fall 2020

Top Hat, a Canadian classroom-management system, has released a survey of more than 3,000 college and university students in North America about the quality of online education during the winter 2020 term and their plans for the upcoming fall term. Many (26 percent) were undecided about their return to school and just 7 percent said they wouldn’t return if the term would be online only. View the survey infographic here.

Something nice: Congrats graduates!

With convocation on hold for the Class of 2020, Emily Carr University of Art + Design is celebrating its graduating students with a purpose-built website. The site includes a heartfelt message from president Gillian Siddall, a full list of graduating students and their programs, a Class of 2020 social media frame students can download, and a link to a very sweet video of support from several faculty members, incoming students, and other community members (our personal fave: that catchy tune by Lulu and her dad!).

And something not so nice, actually

While this update tends to stick to Canadian news, we highly recommend today’s episode of The Daily podcast from The New York Times. We’ve heard from a lot of students and instructors about the challenges of transitioning to online education (see our opinion piece “A professor asked her students how they were coping. Here’s what they said.”), but this story by Times’ reporter Nicholas Casey literally gives a voice to that struggle. The piece reveals how this global pandemic exposes the lie behind higher-ed as the “great equalizer” as some students and professors are forced to contend with huge work disruptions outside the campus bubble.

May 4, 2020

Return to work

As some provinces begin to relax mandatory business closures and stay-at-home orders in the next few weeks, universities in these provinces have started initiating their own plans for reopening campuses. Yesterday, McGill University released details about “phase one” of restarting some on-campus research activities as of May 11. The university will start by reopening six targeted buildings containing labs conducting research in such fields as health, natural sciences, agriculture, forestry and engineering (these are the research areas currently being prioritized by the Quebec government).

The update included a link to precautions for containing the spread of COVID-19 that researchers must comply with in order to resume their work. In addition to outlining specific permission procedures as well as health and safety measures, the directives state that principal investigators returning to work must be prepared “for a sudden shut down following university or government directives or should other circumstances arise that would limit activities (e.g., a reported case of a COVID infection in a lab group).” Meanwhile, neighbouring Université du Québec à Montréal is preparing to welcome some researchers back as of today, however the institution has yet to publicly release specific details of what the return to work will look like.

At the University of Prince Edward Island, some faculty members and students will resume research activities as of May 25. That’s the start date for “stage one” of the university’s “operational ease-back plan,” which will also see the university’s management team return to campus. The number of people working on campus will be reviewed and expanded by June 15 (stage two) and again for August 1 (stage three).

Studies suggest COVID-19 cases higher than reported and that children are as infectious as adults

This gradual return to work for some comes even as more research suggests that SARS-CoV-2 infections are more widespread in Canada than reported. This conclusion comes from a statistical study released by economists at Université de Montréal, which found that Ontario likely has 18 times as many cases as officially reported, while Quebec likely has 12 times the number of cases. Taking into account just these two provinces, there could be nearly half-a-million unreported cases of COVID-19 reported (the official count of COVID-19 cases in Canada as of this morning is 59,844). The researchers used official Canadian data and applied a statistical measure “that corrects for non-random testing to estimate population infection rates in Quebec and Ontario.” They chalk up the discrepancy to limited testing capabilities and to differences in reporting standards between the provinces. In an interview with Radio-Canada International, the researchers said their findings suggest “that either because of the constraints in testing or because people with mild symptoms don’t bother to go and get tested,” the official numbers significantly understate how widespread the disease is.

An associate professor of microbiology and immunology at McGill also spoke out this weekend in support of German research that found children could just as easily transmit COVID-19 as adults – findings that come as Quebec and P.E.I. prepare to reopen elementary schools and some day care facilities. Christian Drosten, a virologist and Germany’s leading coronavirus expert, recently released a study that found viral loads in children were not much different from those in adults and that “opening schools on the assumption that children are less likely to spread the virus was therefore ill-advised.”

In an interview with CTV, McGill’s Jorg Fitz said he was taking these results very seriously. “Based on these results we have to caution against an unlimited opening of schools and kindergartens until we’ve verified it.” He added that Canada – and Quebec in particular – is not prepared to reopen as we don’t yet have the means to test and trace all cases of COVID-19, control outbreaks in high-risk facilities (like seniors’ homes) nor do we have tested and enforceable workplace health and safety measures in place.

University instructors speak out

Last week, several organizations representing postsecondary instructors released letters calling on decision-makers to provide financial support for the sector.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking the federal government to bolster public funding for postsecondary institutions to offset anticipated financial losses due to the pandemic. The letter outlines three recommendations for this: extend access to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy to colleges and universities (presently, publicly funded institutions are not eligible for the wage subsidy, although CAUT argues that public funding made up less than half of revenue at postsecondary institutions last year); work with provinces and institutions to offer tuition waivers; increase federal transfer payments to the provinces for postsecondary education with the expectation of improving affordability, accessibility and quality of education.

“Universities and colleges are integral to the solving of Canada’s current and future challenges. We are writing to urge you to take immediate steps to further close the gaps in emergency support and commit to making changes to improve the affordability and sustainability of post-secondary education as part of a recovery plan that ensures a stronger and more just post-Covid-19 Canada,” writes CAUT president Brenda Austin-Smith and executive director David Robinson.

The All-Unions Alliance, a collective of 16 faculty unions from Nova Scotia postsecondary institutions co-led by the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers, also published an open letter to university administrators, provincial and federal governments. The group is asking for a reduction of student tuition fees, an increase in student bursaries, and a ban on layoffs and cuts to PSE programs and services, all while accepting “the necessity of deficits this year as they work to return to normalcy from the current pandemic.” Noting that postsecondary institutions are significant employers and recruit many new residents to Atlantic Canada, the group points out that “businesses are being given financial support to help them survive now and recover when the state of emergency is over. But no lifeline has been held out to Nova Scotia’s postsecondary institutions.”

In British Columbia, the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of B.C. issued a similar statement, recommending that governments and university institutions, among others, ensure stable funding to the sector; rely on the advice of academic experts for pandemic-related decision-making; and increase funding to RAs and TAs. The statement also detailed ways institutions and governments could protect “vulnerable faculty” through a variety of measures, such as contract extensions, financial support for the resources to transition to online learning, compassionate leave options, and accommodations for instructors who are also caregiving at home. And, for its part, the Federation of Post-secondary Educators of B.C. published a statement of support for laid-off workers in private postsecondary institutions.

The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations voiced its concern about “the erosion of democratic, transparent, and accountable collegial governance practices at Ontario’s universities as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The group called out university administrations that are making academic decisions without proper consideration for shared governance procedures involving senates or academic councils.

“As institutions shift to making longer-term decisions about their academic and operational activities for the summer and fall terms, they face challenging decisions about how to carry out the teaching and research that is core to their purpose. OCUFA is extremely worried by the unilateral and non-consultative approaches some administrations have engaged in to make these decisions…. [U]niversities must not use this pandemic as an excuse to ignore their democratic, transparent, and accountable collegial governance structures. University administrations must respect collegial governance and the voices of faculty.”

Something nice

York University’s faculty of science is offering a total of $50,000 to help its students (undergrads and grad students alike) in online courses this summer. The York Science Summer Student Success Fund will provide up to 1,000 students with a $50 discount at the university bookstore for required or recommended textbooks on the syllabus for 2020 summer courses.

May 1, 2020

 

Quebec extends international student visa

The province of Quebec has extended Quebec Acceptance Certificates (CAQ) for international students whose permits were set to expire as of April 30. They have been automatically renewed until December 31, 2020.

Most students registered for courses at a Quebec institution must receive a CAQ before applying to the federal government for a study permit, explains Canada Immigration News. Radio-Canada reports that in a letter to immigration lawyers, Quebec’s immigration minister explained his office made this decision so not to penalize international students who were unable to complete their study programs and are now stuck in the province because of the public health crisis. He said the automatic extension will simplify the renewal process for federal-level study permits for these students.

University president seeks federal help for international students

International students were also top of mind for Cape Breton University president David Dingwall. In a statement released on April 23 – just after the federal government unveiled the Canada Emergency Student Benefit – he criticized the CESB’s eligibility requirements, which limit the aid package to Canadian residents and citizens. International students, who are here under temporary study permits, do not qualify.

“Like Canadian students, international students are facing hardship due to COVID-19. Many rely on employment during the summer months to help support their education and gain experience to reach their career goals, an option that is now in jeopardy,” Mr. Dingwall said.

While no aid package has specifically addressed the needs of international students, the federal government did drop work-hour restrictions for international students. On April 22, the government announced it would allow international students to work “in an essential service or function, such as health care, critical infrastructure, or the supply of food or other critical goods” for more than the usual 20 hours a week until August 31, 2020.

USask lays off 500 employees

The University of Saskatchewan will temporarily lay off 500 employees due to pandemic-related campus closures and work-from-home directives. The layoffs will last 12 weeks, until the university has a better understanding of how it will roll-out its campus re-opening. According to the Star-Phoenix, “affected employees will be able to claim the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. The university will also provide a top-up to the federal benefit, bringing the laid-off staff to 85 percent of their usual salaries. Laid-off workers will also keep their benefits and access to university services such as email accounts.”

NSERC reaches out

Yesterday, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council president Alejandro Adem sent an email to reassure award recipients and stakeholders of the agency’s commitment to researchers and their work during the crisis:

“We are working hard to provide stability for the months ahead and will continue to adjust programs as the situation evolves, including flexibility for our deadlines. By offering an automatic one-year, funded extension for all active Discovery Grants we hope to be able to offset the incredible disruption caused by the pandemic. The Government of Canada has also announced significant emergency support for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, details for this are being worked out and will be available soon. Our staff are also focused on the quick dispersal of emergency Government investments in research related to COVID-19 as we search for near-term treatments and long-term solutions. … [D]espite the technical challenges of physical distancing, we are powering ahead with operations as usual, including the recent, much-anticipated announcement of the 2020 Discovery Grants competition. Indeed, I want to take this opportunity to strongly emphasize that all NSERC research projects are important to our agency.”

SFU launches COVID-19 response network on Slack, Zoom

Simon Fraser University launched an online hub for pandemic-related information. While most universities have created similar one-stop sites, an interesting addition to SFU’s are its Zoom- and Slack-based online networks that connect SFU community members who are working to respond to COVID-19 in some way. Check out the SFU-Community COVID-19 Response and Recovery Network here.

Something nice: Star Wars for a good cause

The University of Victoria’s faculty of fine arts and Farquhar Auditorium are coordinating a free livestream of a one-man restaging of the Star Wars trilogy as a fundraiser for the university’s student emergency bursary. UVic alum Charles Ross will perform his One-Man Star Wars Trilogy on Monday, May 4, in celebration of “May the Fourth be with you” day. The actor has toured the production in London’s West End, the Sydney Opera House and off-Broadway in New York. The show is “suitable for ages six to Yoda.”

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.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

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

A post shared by Brock International (@brockuintl) on

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.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

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

A post shared by Carleton Therapy Dogs (@cutherapydog) on

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.

March 31, 2020 2:00 p.m. EST

 

Need an expert? We’ve got ’em

Researchers and clinicians working on COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus now have a single web portal where they can access a range of resources to help their work. The project, called COVID-19 Resources Canada, is led by Guillaume Bourque, director of bioinformatics at the McGill University Genome Innovation Center, and Tara Moriarty, an infection disease specialist at the University of Toronto, and includes a team of 20 volunteers – a mix of STEM researchers, graduate students, medical students, data analysts, postdocs and designers.

The site currently includes a list of volunteer and donation initiatives as well as a volunteer signup form for these calls. A work in progress, the platform is intended to be a hub with information on active research projects, relevant publications, and additional information that may be of use to Canadian research and development around the pandemic. It has sections tailored to scientists, policymakers and the public.

According to the website, the goal is to “support frontline health-care workers; expand capacities of public health and research labs; serve as a source of expertise on COVID-19.”

“We are building a centralized Canadian database of crowdsourced-lists for wanted and offered reagents for clinical applications and also COVID-19 research projects. The data will be organized to enable filtering and navigation, including by location.”

Another one-stop shop for Canadian R&D that went live this week, Cognit.ca, offers a central search engine for researchers, research facilities and intellectual property based out of Canadian universities.

Users type a search term into Cognit.ca and the platform will scour the tri-council awards databases and CFI’s research facilities navigator for relevant projects and researchers. The tool will also retrieve a relevant catalogue of licensing opportunities at Canadian postsecondary institutions and a list of patents filed for by Canadian postsecondary researchers and institutions. Users can also search by a specific name, project title or institution.

The website was created by the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities alongside partners at Universities Canada (publisher of University Affairs) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, with help from Mitacs, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Alberta enlists Butterdome

Starting next week, the University of Alberta’s Universiade Pavilion (commonly known as the Butterdome) will be a secondary assessment and treatment facility for Alberta Health Services to care for patients with respiratory or flu-like symptoms, including those with COVID-19. The province is setting up the centre in the 64,000 square-foot multipurpose venue in order to meet the demand for immediate, but not urgent, care.

“We’re all in this together,” said Andrew Sharman, U of A’s vice-president of facilities and operations. “This is part of the U of A’s effort to fight this pandemic and hopefully will alleviate some pressure on the health-care system, especially as it moves towards its peak treatment and demand period.”

CACUSS cancelled

It comes as no surprise, but stings nonetheless: this year’s conference of the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services has been cancelled. The annual CACUSS conference was to take place in Toronto from May 31 to June 3. The next conference is set for Fredericton in 2021 and will return to Toronto in 2022.

The organizers’ disappointment in rendering this decision is notable in the message they sent out this week:

“This is the first time in our 47-year history that we will not be gathering in person as an Association to connect, share knowledge and support each other. This decision was particularly difficult for us when it feels like we need connection more than ever. … Also, we are standing on top of our office chairs waving arms and shouting out praise to our outstanding volunteers involved with our program committee and sub-committees for all their input, hard work, and contributions to shape our conference. We know and appreciate the emotion and time you invested in helping us plan this event. We share your disappointment in not being able to celebrate a successful conference together.”

This video by incoming CACUSS president Mark Solomon (a.k.a. the Batman of student affairs) explaining the decision while wearing a onesie will probably make you feel a little better:

“I don’t think anyone could have been able to predict … even 30 days ago that we’d be able to take a nation’s worth of institutions, and take all of your student services and everything you do – all your contact points – and put them completely online. … But you did it. You did it in five days – some of you in two days, some of you are still doing it. It doesn’t come without its bumps, its hard and I’m sure at points it felt like you were driving the Titanic, and at times you felt like the band on the Titanic. … Thank you to the membership – not necessarily on behalf of CACUSS, but on behalf of the students you serve. The work that you do is phenomenal and the work that you are going to do is amazing.”

“Finger guns” to the team at CACUSS and to all the hard-working student affairs staff out there.

More history repeating

Last week we told you about Dal News’s look back at that university’s response to the 1918 flu pandemic. Today, we bring you this story from the CBC archives about a Norwalk outbreak at New Brunswick’s Mount Allison University in 2006. Come for a look at the institution’s response (including a “sick person’s sleepover” — a quaint relic from a time before social distancing), stay for all the sweet early-aught fashion.

Something nice

Université de Montréal rector Guy Breton announced that the university’s bell tower will be lit up all week in a rainbow of colours as a sign of solidarity and hope. The rainbow emoji has become a symbol associated with the #ÇaVaBienAller (“it’ll be OK”) movement.

UPEI’s Active Living Lab is offering online ergonomic assessments for Islanders working from home.

Many researchers have had to pause their studies and cancel research trips to Canada’s North. But thanks to community collaborators in these communities, some projects will continue – albeit in a slightly different way. The Narwhal reports on how a few ecologists are getting creative.

 

March 30, 2020 11:30 a.m. EST

 

Universities offer emergency housing

Some campuses are gearing up to temporarily house those who are vulnerable to the novel coronavirus or exhibiting symptoms of an infection, but have nowhere to safely self-isolate from family members or the community. The University of Ottawa is preparing to receive 65 people in residence today at the request of the city. Trent University has made its residence at Gzowski College available to Peterborough Regional Health Centre for health-care workers who are treating COVID-19 patients and choose to self-isolate from their families. The University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine has partnered with StayWell, a non-profit that offers suites to patients visiting the city for medical treatments, to repurpose some of its units for medical residents and trainees working in hospitals. Meanwhile, Kingston public health agencies are assessing the suitability of residences at Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College as part of a contingency plan to safely house frontline workers.

Quebec to create COVID-19 biobank

Vincent Mooser, of McGill University’s Genome Centre and department of human genetics, is leading a team in creating the Québec COVID-19 Biobank, where data samples related to COVID-19 will be collected, stored and shared. The initiative is funded by the Fonds de recherche du Québec and Genome Québec and will be open as of April 1.

Studying samples from infected individuals will help researchers better understand how the disease works and who is most vulnerable to it. However, building such an unprecedented database and making it available to scientists requires organizers to carefully consider not just safety measures, but privacy and ethical issues, too. A statement from McGill clarifies the need for an organized rollout:

“The decision made by FRQ to create a Québec-wide Biobank for COVID is due to the importance of acting quickly to curb the spread of the disease. This extremely complex task will require the coordination of disparate data systems, the establishment of new standard operating procedures, and the securing of physical and digital infrastructure. All of this needs to take place in an extremely compressed period of time and during intense pressure on healthcare systems.”

The biobank team is a collaboration between researchers at McGill, the Jewish General Hospital, the CHUM, Sainte-Justine Hospital, Sherbrooke University Hospital Centre, Laval University Hospital Centre, Chicoutimi Hospital (affiliated with Université du Québec à Chicoutimi), the Montreal Heart Institute and Université de Montréal. It will make use of existing networks and infrastructure, including a biobank at the Quebec Respiratory Health Research Network, the Canada Foundation for Innovation and Quebec’s AI research network MILA.

Funding and services for youth mental health

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $7.5 million in new funding to support Kids Help Phone, an anonymous service that offers crisis counselling for youth by phone, instant messaging and text. “We owe a big thanks to Canada’s young people who are staying home from school or from work because they know it will take all of us to plank the curve. … For those youth who don’t have someone to talk to, they can turn to Kids Help Phone,” said Bardish Chagger, minister of diversity and inclusion and youth, in a press release.

Several other services are available to students, such as Empower Me or Beacon, often for free or at a reduced rate depending on health insurance coverage (visit studentcare.ca to see if your school offers the Empower Me program). Students in Ontario can access the province’s Good2Talk free phone and text service, while Manitobans will soon have access to a new provincially funded digital therapy program created by Morneau Shepell as well as a new anxiety support line.

A number of universities have also made their counselling and mental-health services available to students remotely by telephone or online, including the University of Ottawa, the University of Victoria, Royal Roads University, the University of Winnipeg, University of Lethbridge and Mount Saint Vincent University (see also MSVU’s tips for maintaining mental wellness in this time). The list of resources available to students, staff and faculty grows by the day.

U of T calls on public for donations to COVID-19 research

Several universities have launched fundraising campaigns to support students facing emergency costs due to the pandemic. The University of Toronto has taken its fundraising efforts a step further. In a message announcing the Toronto COVID-19 Action Fund, vice-president of advancement David Palmer made a plea for direct public support for U of T researchers working to solve the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Together, the University of Toronto and its hospital partners have already invested $6 million in the Toronto COVID-19 Action Fund. We are hoping to match that amount with a call for donations. The funds will be granted in their entirety within the next few weeks to scientists at U of T and its hospital partners for initiatives with the potential for immediate impact.” He noted that current projects underway are tackling vaccine development, diagnostic technology, lab redeployment in service of COVID-19 testing, ventilator manufacturing and crisis management, among other topics.

Something nice

University Affairs wants you to leave you with a few moments of inspiration to start your work week.

How about a video of Santa Ono, president of the University of British Columbia, playing a tune on his cello for his many Twitter followers? He’s also tweeting out some excellent contributions to the #SongsofComfort movement, including several by UBC students and faculty members.

Need a little more soothing? How about hosting a virtual wellness party, like Algoma University is doing this week.

Or consider a digital certificate to thank staff and colleagues who’ve gone above and beyond in this time of crisis, like this one sent to respiratory therapist Mika Nonoyama from the faculty of health sciences at Ontario Tech University, where she is an assistant professor.

March 27, 2020 11:00 a.m. EST

 

Travel ban exemptions come into effect

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the travel ban exemptions for international students are now in effect. On March 20, the federal government announced that international students who held a valid study permit or had been approved for a study permit as of March 18, 2020, would be able to travel to Canada in order to begin or continue their studies. As of March 26, those students may now travel to Canada. Travellers will be subject to health checks before boarding their flights and must comply with a mandatory 14-day isolation order once they’ve arrived.

As previously reported, temporary residents in Canada whose immigration documents will soon expire may extend their status online. Those who have applied for an extension can stay in the country until a decision has been made, even if their original status documents expire while they are waiting for that decision. IRCC has also clarified that the transition to online courses due to COVID-19 won’t impact a student’s eligibility for the Post-Graduation Work Permit program.

Equitable access to resources and fair dealing during a pandemic

The Canadian Association of Research Libraries has released a statement calling for more equitable access to digital resources in the face of campus closures and the transition to online learning. The statement notes that many library resources cannot be made available online due to usage restrictions and licensing agreements. In short, to improve access, CARL is calling on:

  • publishers to waive access restrictions on virtual collections – some of these restrictions include a limit on the number of users who can access a resource at one time, copying restrictions and campus-only access restrictions – for the duration of this crisis;
  • educational and content distributors to provide open access to video content
  • course instructors to make use of open-access resources as often as possible
  • policy enforcement to recognize the spirit of the Copyright Act rather than its letter and allow for digital copying to be distributed through libraries’ secure online lending platform.

The full statement is available here. It references the Internet Archive’s (archive.org) recent decision to expand access to its cache of digitized books by creating a National Emergency Library “to serve the nation’s displaced learners.” As part of this decision, IA has suspended its waitlist policy, allowing users immediate access to material until June 30.

“This library brings together all the books from Phillips Academy Andover and Marygrove College, and much of Trent University’s collections, along with over a million other books donated from other libraries to readers worldwide that are locked out of their libraries.”

On the subject of fair dealing, Sam Trosow, an associate professor cross-appointed to the faculties of law and information studies and Western University, explains in a blog post how copyright law applies to online course materials – yes, the law still applies even in the middle of a global pandemic.

In a similar, but different, vein, Brock University is (sort of) offering free “drive-in” internet access to students: they’re inviting those who need it to park for free on campus in order to connect to the university’s Wi-Fi network.

Science in a hurry

As clinical trials begin across the globe, researchers in Canada are acknowledging that they’ve had “to cut some corners.” The race to find treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19, and to better understand the novel coronavirus that causes it has led to a relaxing of the rules, such as the requirement of a double-blind study. Health Canada is simply asking researchers to document any deviation they’ve made in the usual processes.

Experts also suggest the response to this health crisis will have long-term effects on science publishing, as journals drop paywalls on virus-related studies and also relax some of their review standards in favour of expediency.

Students deserve a voice at the table in times of crisis

“Dear university administrations: Picture this. You’re a third-year university student at the tail end of mid-term season, anxiously preparing for finals, when you receive an email completely upending your current plans. School is closed and a global pandemic has wreaked havoc across campus and the world. You have no toilet paper, no food, no guidance and yet you are still expected to finish that essay due on Friday.” In an op-ed for the Ottawa Citizen, Emily Lalonde, a third-year architecture student at Carleton University, says that the rush to move to online learning has risked students’ health and well-being, while compromising the educational experience.

Quebec students – particularly those in the Université du Québec system – are demanding that the provincial government cancel the winter term outright. A petition by students at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières calling for the cancellation with full credit but no grades, reached more than 100,000 signatures and was delivered to the education minister on Wednesday. Similar requests have been made by student groups at Université du Québec à Chicoutimi. According to La Presse, the Union des étudiants du Québec has asked that students be allowed to withdraw from the term without penalty, among other requests the group is making.

Alberta to go ahead with cuts to PSE, Ontario suspends OSAP payments

The Edmonton Journal reports that the University of Alberta is taking issue with the latest provincial budget. The U of A recently tabled a letter to the province from many of its concerned community members asking the government to cancel planned cuts to the postsecondary sector. The cuts, which amount to $110 million, come at a time when the institution is being asked to provide key resources in the fight against COVID-19.

U of A president David Turpin says the proposed cuts are deep, and require the institution to raise tuition and non-academic fees, cut back on student aid and cut more than 1,000 jobs. Global News in Edmonton reports that the UCP government was unmoved by the university’s plea.

For its part, Ontario joined several other provinces yesterday in suspending student loan (OSAP) payments and interest charges from March 30 to September 30.

Tenure on hold for some at U of T

The University of Toronto will be granting a one-year extension on academic review for pre-tenure faculty members. In a letter from Heather Boon, vice-provost of faculty and academic life, the institution acknowledged that work disruptions related to COVID-19 will have a serious impact on faculty research and teaching activities. “In response, any pre-tenure or pre-continuing status faculty member may request a one year delay in their timeline to tenure or continuing status on the grounds of the ‘serious personal circumstances beyond their control’ associated with the current COVID 19 situation. In addition, any pre-permanent status librarian may request a delay in the date of their review for permanent status on the grounds of the impact the current COVID 19 situation.”

March 26, 2020 11:30 a.m. EST

 

STLHE conference cancelled

The Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education announced today that it has cancelled its conference this year, which had been scheduled for June 2-12 in Ottawa. The annual conference will resume in 2021 in Ottawa. In an email to registered participants, STLHE explained the decision:

“At STLHE, the health and safety of our members, communities and volunteers is our main priority. We share our heartfelt support for anyone whose health has been impacted because of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. It is important for us as a national community to minimize the negative impact this virus is having on our lives, our local communities and our businesses.

With the recent pandemic coming to a head, many bans have been put into place to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19, prompting event and workplace shutdowns across Canada and the world.  As a result, the Society of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education has made the decision not to hold our conference in 2020.

This was a difficult decision to make as we had many incredible submissions and were looking forward to the great celebration that would be this year’s 40th conference. However, we believe our decision to not hold a physical conference in Ottawa in 2020 is the best option to ensure a safe and successful event for our delegates, speakers and sponsors.

Panels and papers that were accepted this year will be invited to present at the 2021 conference scheduled for June 15-18. We are planning that delegates will also have the opportunity to submit new proposals and/or revise existing abstracts for the 2021 conference.”

As we’ve previously reported, the organization has been hard at work supporting instructors through the shift to online teaching and learning through its Keep Teaching portal.


Read also: Funding basic science research is crucial to our coronavirus pandemic responses/


Your parchment is in the mail…

As more universities cancel their spring convocations in compliance with social distancing and self-isolation measures, McMaster University said yesterday that it will host a graduation celebration online this spring. An in-person event will take place at a later date. “We recognize that convocation is an important and special event for graduands, our award recipients and their families, and we are actively developing plans for both the online and in-person celebrations,” reads the statement. “Please note that while the ceremony is changing, this will not change the timing of when you graduate and the conferral of degrees for graduands.” A few other institutions, including York University, have also suggested they’ll be looking into an online solution. Meanwhile, Brock University live streamed its athletics awards gala last night.

Translators needed

The educational technology department at the University of British Columbia’s faculty of medicine has put a call out on Twitter for translators to help prepare informational videos on COVID-19. Translators working in any language are needed, though the department seems to be particularly interested in translating resources from English into French, Spanish, German, Italian, Punjabi and Hindi.


Other articles we have written about COVID-19:

 


Med students make a difference

Students from every medical school in Canada have banded together in some way to help their colleagues working on the frontlines of health services right now. From childminding and grocery deliveries for exhausted health professionals, to staffing COVID-19 testing centres, these students are stepping up and making a real difference. In Calgary, for instance, med students have helped to quadruple Alberta’s capacity to contact-trace COVID-19 cases, according to a report by the CBC.

How universities responded to the 1918 flu pandemic

Dal News editor Ryan McNutt dove into the Dalhousie Gazette’s archives for a look at how the university responded to the global flu pandemic of 1918. His research suggests the institution – as well as the city of Halifax and the province of Nova Scotia – weathered that crisis relatively well thanks to strong public health measures. One of those measures? Suspending all classes at Dalhousie for nearly five weeks. He quotes from an article dated November 27, 1918, to illustrate the differences between then and our digital age: “This year the college curriculum seems doomed to interruption, much to the joy of the slothful, but decidedly to the inconvenience of those who really want to learn something before they leave Dalhousie.”

A matter of policy

Want to keep up on policy changes inspired by the pandemic? The Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University has you covered with its “Policy for Pandemics” newsletter. Launched on March 20, the near-daily missive offers a look at the pandemic through the lens of a particular policy challenge. So far its tackled recession, misinformation, and the U.K.’s response to COVID-19.

A Zoom of one’s own

According to McGill University mechanical engineering professor Andrew Higgins, his faculty colleagues showed up in record numbers for their first virtual departmental meeting. How is your department/faculty managing the move to online collaboration? What’s worked so far in your department’s virtual operations, and what lessons have you learned? Let us know at editor@univcan.ca, or tweet us at @UA_magazine.

And speaking of Zoom, King’s University College, affiliated with Western University, has moved its student recruitment efforts to the video-conference platform. Enrolment services staffers are holding Zoom office hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day.

March 25, 2020 12:00 p.m. EST

 

But what is “essential”?

Canada’s two most populous provinces have ordered the closure of all non-essential, in-person workplaces, and it’s raising the question of just what, exactly, is considered an essential service on a university campus. At the University of Toronto, for example, residences, campus police, food services, maintenance and IT will stay open and employees will continue to report to work on campus. Labs and offices conducting COVID-19 research have, understandably, been exempted as have projects deemed “time-sensitive and critical.”

Student funding update

More universities are offering emergency funds for students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. At Vancouver Island University, the student union and VIU Foundation have each donated $75,000 to help establish an emergency bursary fund for students. The university has launched a crowdfunding website for the fund, with a goal of raising an additional $100,000 by the end of May.

Université de Sherbrooke, meanwhile, has pledged $500,000 to support students facing financial hardship in light of job losses and sudden additional costs related to the pandemic. Details on how to access funding will be available to students by Monday. And the university has put a four-month pause on billing for interest charges on unpaid tuition fees.

The University of New Brunswick is offering any student registered from the winter 2020 term up to $1,000 to help cover urgent travel fees and living costs.

Most provinces have now followed the federal government’s lead in suspending student loan payments for a six-month period. In the past week, Newfoundland, B.C., Quebec, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and PEI have all announced loan-relief measures.

Canada shuts military colleges – finally

On Tuesday afternoon, Canadian Armed Forces announced the cancellation of in-person training at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, and in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. The cancellations come more than a week after postsecondary institutions in both provinces cancelled on-campus classes.

Department of Defence employees raised concerns about RMC maintaining courses despite the federal government’s persistent call for self-isolation, social distancing and the suspension of non-essential travel and business — as well as both provincial governments having declared a state of emergency. La Presse notes that as of March 20, the department reported three of its employees had contracted COVID-19 and had unwittingly returned to work.

Office hours for teaching and learning questions

Having a hard time with the transition to online teaching and testing? The Maple League is hosting online “office hours” with faculty experts to help! The Maple League is posting upcoming topics for their virtual office hours on Twitter. Today’s topic: adapting assessments and exams.

There’s a podcast for that

The University of Calgary has launched COVIDcast. The (weekly?) podcast features U of C experts answering questions and exploring issues related to COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus that causes the illness. The first episode, which went live on March 23, has public health expert Bill Ghali, U of C’s vice-president, research, talking about the impact of COVID-19 on research activity, the treatment of other illnesses, and the coordinated response by public health officials.

Work-integrated learning adapts

Riipen, a Canadian-made platform that administers online experiential education opportunities, has waived subscription fees for the spring-summer terms. The software allows universities to continue work-integrated-learning programs, with students participating remotely in co-ops, internships and related coursework.

International students stuck in Canada

Canada attracts more than 400,000 international students to its postsecondary institutions every year. While many of those students have found their way home, some are stuck here. The CBC reports that those remaining students are feeling “increasingly isolated, lonely and worried,” and outlines what universities are doing to try and help. The Journal de Montréal also reports that international students in Quebec are stressed about how they’ll afford to stay in the country while they wait for their visas to be extended.

March 24, 2020 10:45 a.m. EST

 

Diagnostic expertise (and childcare) needed for COVID-19 testing

The Moriarty Lab, an infectious diseases research lab led by Tara Moriarty at the University of Toronto, put a call out on Twitter for Canadian researchers, senior PhD students, postdocs and lab technicians who can help with COVID-19 testing in public health labs – including those who can lend a hand with childcare. Scientists with relevant experience and skills are urged to sign up with the lab online.

New funding for R&D and manufacturing in fight against COVID-19

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that $275 million has been earmarked for the research, development and production of medical equipment and treatments for COVID-19 as well as a vaccine against the novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease. The funding, part of the federal government’s $1-billion COVID-19 Response Fund, is intended “to quickly mobilize Canadian researchers and life sciences companies” and will be used to support research projects that are already underway.

As with other emergency funding measures the government has unveiled in the past week, the research funding will largely come through existing programs. Notably, $192 million will be distributed to new projects under the new Strategic Innovation Fund’s COVID-19 stream.

Funding will also go to infectious disease research, clinical trials and bio-manufacturing at the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac). The Canada Foundation for Innovation will add $11 million with another $12 million coming from Western Economic Diversification’s Regional Economic Growth Through Innovation program.

Some $15 million will fund upgrades to the National Research Council’s Human Health Therapeutics biomanufacturing facility in Montreal for the eventual mass production of promising vaccine candidates. The NRC will also receive money to organize the Pandemic Response Challenge Program and the COVID-19 Challenges Procurement Program.

Read more about the NRC’s extensive COVID-19 response programs here, and other projects that the federal government will fund, according a statement released yesterday.

The prime minister also called upon postsecondary institutions and entreprises of all sizes to donate supplies to the fight against COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus. A list of needed services and items, including disposable surgical masks and hand sanitizer, has been posted to the Public Works and Government Services Canada website.

Graduate supervision

The University of Calgary’s faculty of graduate studies has put together a comprehensive guide for “effective remote supervision.” It’s a useful resource for supervisors and grad students alike, with tips on project management, setting up a workspace, and practical considerations for conducting research.

Mitacs cancels internships

Mitacs has cancelled its prestigious Globalink Research Internship program for this summer. However, the call for 2021 participants continues. Current Globalink Research Award winners are expected to continue their work remotely.

Alone, together

Ryerson University’s Student Life team is hosting streaming movie viewings at noon (ET) every day this week. Join them through the Netflix Party web browser extension.

March 20, 2020 10:45 a.m. EST

According to Ken Steele, 14 campuses are reporting 21 confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19. The list now includes Western University, the University of Alberta and the University of Victoria.

Some international students exempt from travel ban

The Government of Canada has clarified that international students who held a valid study permit, or had been approved for a study permit, on March 18, 2020, would be exempt from federal air-travel restrictions. The exemption will allow international students to return to Canada to resume their studies once exams and courses resume. Study-permit applicants who were approved after the travel restriction took effect on March 18 are not exempt from the air-travel restrictions. The exempted travellers will be subject to mandatory health checks upon boarding and leaving their flights, and should self-isolate for 14 days once in Canada.

Universities offer emergency student funding

Université Laval has established an emergency fund for students facing a financial crisis as a result of the pandemic. At a press conference on Thursday, university president Sophie D’Amours said the fund was created in a show of solidarity with students who suddenly find themselves unemployed due to business closures and layoffs. While it’s not yet clear how much each student will be entitled to, the president underlined that the pool of money, which will be primarily funded by donations through the university’s not-for-profit foundation, is intended as a last resort.

The University of Toronto has also made emergency funds available to undergraduate students affected by COVID-19. The Emergency Undergraduate Grant is available to domestic and international undergrads in need of need immediate, short-term funding because of unexpected expenses related to the novel coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Laurentian University has raised $80,000 in emergency funds for students. Each student is eligible for up to $500 to help cover emergency costs, like those related to moving or to accessing high-speed internet for online courses.

U of Calgary opts for pass/fail

Students at the University of Calgary will have the choice to receive a letter grade for their winter term courses, or to opt for pass/fail. The news comes after the University of Alberta extended the same offer to students late last week. In a statement, U of C’s provost and vice-president, academic, Dru Marshall explained how the process will work once grades are release on May 12:

“Courses with ‘Credit Received’ (CR) or ‘Fail’ will not be included in GPA calculations. CR grades will still count towards their degree completion requirements. A [letter] grade of ‘D’ and better will qualify for the ‘Credit Received’ notation for undergraduate courses. For graduate courses, a grade of ‘B-’ or better will qualify for the ‘Credit Received’ notation. Students will have until May 22 to indicate their choice.” The course withdrawal period has also been extended to April 15.

Student-loan relief in PEI

On Friday, Prince Edward Island’s Education and Lifelong Learning Minster Brad Trivers announced a six-month suspension on provincial student loan repayments.

What it’s like to have COVID-19

A 22-year-old McGill University student recounts her experience with the disease, caused by the novel coronavirus, which she contracted after travelling to Miami for spring break. “I didn’t think I had the virus. Even up until the day I went to get tested, I still didn’t think I had it,” the student says. After returning to Canada, the student, who had mild cold symptoms, continued to attend events on campus.

Tips: financial planning, defending your diss, community engagement

In this YFile Q&A, York University’s Amin Mawani, associate professor of taxation and academic director of the Health Industry Management Program at the Schulich School of Business, offers advice on how faculty, staff and students can approach financial preparedness in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Have you suddenly found yourself preparing to defend your PhD dissertation online instead of in person? Susanna Mitro, who successfully defended her research in population health sciences at Harvard University on Friday, shares her #distancedefense tips. A few nuggets: leave space in your slides to accommodate a videoconferencing window, have a Plan B in case your wifi cuts out, and “embrace opportunities for joy!”

Simon Fraser University’s Public Square has compiled an excellent list of resources for community engagement in a time of social distancing. Resources listed range from tips for keeping socially connected, online arts and cultural events, grassroots and local community support, and kid-friendly media recommendations for parents.

March 20, 2020 10:15 a.m. EST

 

It’s official: no in-person Congress

The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences confirmed last night that this year’s Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences won’t be taking place as planned at Western University from May 30 to June 5. The annual conference, which brings together some 70 scholarly associations and more than 8,000 attendees from Canada and abroad, will instead move to an online platform that has yet to be determined. Associations interested in participating in the virtual Congress have until March 27 to confirm their interest with FedCan.

The organization will be hosting a webinar preview of the virtual format for association representatives next week. Details about the webinar, the adapted conference, cancellation and refund procedures will follow.

“Moving Congress online is going to be a learning curve for everyone involved, but also a unique opportunity we can embrace together. Thank you, and we look forward to the opportunity to work with you to bring a virtual Congress to life,” reads the official statement.

No letter grades

There has been some speculation on social media about whether instructors may resort to pass/fail grades for their students this term, rather than letter grades. According to the University of Alberta’s student newspaper The Gateway, this is now the case at the university: “Both undergraduate and graduate students will receive either a CR, IN or NC on their transcript of classes for this semester denoting ‘credit,’ ‘incomplete,’ or ‘non-credit’ respectively. The designation will bear no weight in calculating a student’s grade point average. … Exemptions to this grading scheme may be established by deans for reasons related to accreditation or licensure requirements.”

The university’s academic standards committee also approved a motion “amending all university transcripts being issued this semester to include an explanation of what the new grading codes mean and why no letter grade was issued during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

U of A president, David Turpin, said the measures will ensure students can progress despite the challenging circumstances presented during the COVID-19 pandemic. “These changes will help alleviate concerns students are facing and give clarity on what to expect moving forward,” he said.

Spring and summer terms

More universities, including Brock University, Carleton University and Saint Mary’s University, have announced they will be delivering spring and summer sessions through distance learning only. There will be no in-person classes, therefore, at least until the fall term. Expect many more, if not all, universities to follow suit. Most universities have also extended course withdrawal dates without penalty for the winter term.

More rapid-response research funding from feds

On Thursday, Minister of Health Patty Hajdu announced $25 million in research funding for COVID-19 research projects. The funds are part of a $275-million package the prime minister had introduced on March 11. This influx of money adds 49 new research projects to the 47 projects unveiled on March 6.

More potential COVID-19 cases associated with universities

Yesterday, Dalhousie University president Deep Saini sent a message alerting to community to a presumptive case of COVID-19 at the institution. He affirmed that anyone who had not been contacted directly by Nova Scotia Public Health is not considered at risk of contracting the illness.

Nova Scotia Public Health also advised the public of a potential low-risk exposure to COVID-19 at two Halifax locations that hosted a provincial high school basketball tournament between March 5 and March 7. One of those locations is the Homburg Athletic Centre gymnasium at Saint Mary’s University. The health agency notes that anyone who was at a high risk of exposure has already been identified and contacted.

Phishing scams

Several universities, including McMaster University as well as the universities of Guelph and Manitoba, are warning that email phishing scams related to COVID-19 are on the rise.

Kind words

Yes, we already singled him out in an earlier update, but another lesson in empathy and compassion from Carleton University’s president Benoit Antoine-Bacon in his letter to the community this morning:

“Every single one of us deserves thanks and congratulations for playing our part in keeping ourselves and others safe, in helping to flatten the curve, in keeping our required services going on- and off-campus, and for preserving the integrity of our academic mission by swiftly and efficiently moving all our courses to online and other modes of distance learning within a short week!

I can’t thank everyone individually, but I can recognize many – but by no means all – of the key groups who have distinguished themselves this week, starting with all teaching staff and students who connected online, with flexibility and compassion, and were there to support one another. …

To all the great people who were on campus this week to keep us safe, to ensure our IT and online learning systems performed well … to make sure our students still in residence were taken care of and well fed … to offer health and counselling appointments to whoever needed it, to help in moving our courses online on such a tight timeline … THANK YOU!

I would like to tip my hat to all our union leaders who as always have represented their members professionally and effectively, while at the same time showing remarkable collaboration and flexibility in service to our students and community. The same can be said of our student leaders who have shown tremendous courage and grace under pressure throughout the week.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t honour the frontline leadership of Department Chairs, Program Supervisors, Associate Deans, Administrative Managers and Directors, and all those we all counted on to make daily decisions in a way that wisely balanced safety and the wellbeing of our community, the needs of students, faculty and staff, and the continuity of our operations and academic mission.”

 

March 19, 2020 11:00 a.m. EST

The number of major new announcements from universities has slowed since yesterday. Updates consist mainly of campuses continuing to close facilities and maintaining only basic essential services. Most university staff are being asked to work remotely.

As well, students are increasingly being told to vacate residences where possible, and some universities have said they will be offering rebates on residence fees for students because of the truncated academic year.

Some universities have also already announced that there will be no face-to-face instruction for courses offered in the spring/summer session. Several universities have cancelled spring convocation, and many more will certainly follow. As Alex Usher commented this morning in his usual cheeky manner, “For any given issue, find the institution with the most extreme, comprehensive response and everyone will be there in a week or sooner.”

The next big step for universities is the major transition to online learning for the remainder of the term. Some universities planned to have faculty restart their teaching as of today, but many are taking a pause until at least Monday to sort things out.

Would you like to share with us how your transition to online is going, or any other stories of cooperation, coordination or resilience in these unprecedented times? Write to editor@univcan.ca.

Keeping up-to-date

A shout-out to a couple of people doing a great job offering updates from across the country. Nicole Crozier, who, according to her personal website, is a student affairs professional working in orientation at the University of Victoria and a master’s student studying educational technology, has been posting all the latest COVID-19 university announcements on her Twitter feed. And, well-known higher education consultant Ken Steele has been doing a comprehensive daily wrap-up at his Eduvation website.

We also remind you to check all the latest headlines on our daily media scan.

Student loans

As we mentioned yesterday, as part of the Prime Minister’s $82-billion economic aid package, students who are currently repaying Canada Student Loans will be able to suspend payments on those loans for six months, interest-free. And now, the Alberta government has also announced a nearly identical six-month repayment moratorium on Alberta student loans, essentially creating a grace period for loan repayments until September.

Research funding updates

We thank Carleton University for this comprehensive list of links to funding agency updates.

Federal Tri-Agency (SSHRC/NSERC/CIHR)

CFI

MITACS

 

March 18, 2020 2:45 p.m. EST

 

Student loan relief

Prime Minister Trudeau announced an $82-billion economic package this morning to address COVID-19: $27 billion in direct support to Canadians and $55 billion in tax deferrals. Of particular note for students, among the many measures announced, there will be “a six-month interest-free moratorium on the repayment of Canada Student Loans for all individuals currently in the process of repaying these loans.”

Compassionate communications

Carleton University president Benoit-Antoine Bacon is getting praise for his compassionate and informative messaging to the campus community during these trying times. “Days ahead of the curve and prioritizing students, staff, and the greater Ottawa community every step of the way,” commented Dwaine A. Taylor. A “consistently empathetic, responsive, authentic tone,” added Caroline Kealey.

Among some of Dr. Bacon’s entreaties: “As we continue to navigate these uncharted waters, please take care of yourself and each other … our commitment to knowledge and to each other will always prevail.” His latest Message from the President can be found here.

U of Lethbridge member self-isolating

The University of Lethbridge announced yesterday that a “member of our campus community has reported to us that their partner, who recently returned from an international trip, has tested positive for COVID-19. The affected individual has not been on campus since returning, however our community member has.” Those who were in close contact with the community member have been informed, says the university, and were asked to self-isolate.

Drive-through testing

University of Calgary student Nirav Saini contacted UA to say he recently started a petition calling for greater drive-through COVID-19 testing nationwide. “When I heard that one of the students at the University of Calgary tested positive … it brought the reality very close to the heart. I had to go through testing and now I am self-isolating alone in my basement. I started this petition after realizing how scary it could be to wait to get tested and then for the results to come back.” It has received over 4,000 signatures in two days.

March 18, 2020 9:30 a.m. EST

Universities, in their actions, are now primarily responding to provincial public health declarations. The governments of Ontario, Alberta and B.C. each declared official emergencies on Tuesday, empowering their governments to enforce restrictions such as social distancing with fines or other penalties. All K-12 schools are closed. The Quebec government ordered all educational facilities, from daycares to universities, closed last Friday.

As a result, while most universities report that their campuses remain open, they are closing libraries and recreation facilities, ending all non-essential research, and moving student services online. We are also seeing campuses move towards an “essential services model.” Ryerson University explains what this means for its students, staff and faculty:

“Essential services are those that are necessary to enable our university to ensure the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff; to preserve critical infrastructure, minimize serious environmental damage, and continue the delivery of administrative functions required to support core organizational priorities.” Among the essential services required to continue operating on campus are community safety and security, computing and communication services, facilities management, and the medical centre.

Note, as we reported yesterday, that many universities are requesting all students to leave campus residences unless they simply have nowhere else to go.


Read also: Academic freedom in the time of coronovirus


The last class

The University of Northern British Columbia officially ended face-to-face classes as of midnight Pacific Time yesterday, March 17. If you were a student attending an evening class at UNBC last night, or a professor teaching one, congratulations! This was likely the last in-person class to be taught at a university in Canada for the 2019-2020 academic year.

UNBC had originally planned to end in-person classes as of end-of-day today, March 18, but pushed the deadline up a day. Ditto for Memorial University, which also moved up the deadline for suspension of all classes by 24 hours, to end-of-day yesterday.

More cancellations

The 2020 Canadian Association for University Continuing Education Conference and annual general meeting scheduled for May 26-28, in Calgary, has been postponed until spring 2021.

The Acfas annual conference scheduled to take place May 4 to 8 at Université de Sherbrooke and Bishop’s University has been canceled. “This is the first time in 87 years that Acfas will not hold its annual congress and that the French-speaking scientific community will not be able to come together,” the association wrote in a statement published on Tuesday. Those who have registered for the conference will receive information on reimbursement arrangements in the coming weeks.

So far, there has been no announcement about the cancellation or postponement of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, scheduled for May 30 to June 5 at Western University in London, Ontario. An announcement from the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences is expected today.

Admissions this fall

Alex Usher, president of Toronto-based consulting firm Higher Education Strategy Associates, was speculating in his daily blog this morning about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on university admissions this coming fall – and the scenarios he paints are not encouraging.

Campus open houses in the spring are often important for regional and smaller universities to attract prospective students – many of these institutions say “that the campus visit is the most important tool they have to pull students in from the larger urban centres,” he writes. But, of course, all such visits are now cancelled indefinitely.


Read also: Coronavirus and cancelled travel – some fringe benefits for researchers?


So how will students make decisions? “That’s anyone’s guess … Institutions in large cities will probably see higher yields this year (that is, a greater fraction of the students they admit will show up) and those in smaller cities will see lower ones … Financial consequences will flow from this.”

As far as international recruitment is concerned, the situation “is so up in the air I am not sure I can write sensibly about it.” One of the main concerns is that international students might not be able to take the necessary language tests (such as TOEFL) or other placement examinations to be admitted for studying in Canada.

And then the kicker: when, he wonders, will universities even be back open again? “At this point in the cycle it’s not clear institutions are going to open in September.”

Miscellaneous

Missing your gym routine? The University of Manitoba’s recreation services has started posting home workouts on their YouTube channel.

The Owens Gallery at Mount Allison University wants to help keep you creatively sharp. They’re tweeting drawing prompts under the hashtag #OwensDailyDraw.

Biohacker Andrew Pelling has relocated a long-term lab experiment from the University of Ottawa to his … house. Follow the Twitter thread on how he DIY’d his home lab – and stay for the daily cocktail recommendations. (And read more about Dr. Pelling’s fascinating work in our feature profile from 2017.)

March 17, 2020 3:30 p.m. EST

 

Updates from funders

On Monday, Canada’s Tri-Agencies (SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR) posted a joint update alerting the research community that the granting councils are modifying business operations in light of social distancing, though the update didn’t provide much in the way of detail. According to the statement, the agencies “recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic may affect your work, your ability to conduct and to review research, and your ability to prepare and submit publications or grant and scholarship applications. We understand that some research could be jeopardized or slowed down; the preparation of research and financial reports may be delayed; and meetings, events, and travel plans might also be affected. The granting agencies will continue to support the research community as we adapt to these challenges.” They add that any changes or adaptations will be made on a program-by-program basis, and will be communicated by the relevant granting council on their respective websites.

Meanwhile, the Canada Council for the Arts recommends that grant recipients closely document any lost revenue due to event cancellations or deferrals that are directly related to COVID-19. “There is no single person who knows what to do and no one alone will have the resources to address the impacts of what we are currently facing. But, first and foremost, people must be taken care of. We must reassure and help the most vulnerable, and mobilize resources to enable them to overcome this situation with dignity. This is our commitment at the Council,” writes director Simon Brault.

COVID-19 case at ON university, two presumptive cases at N.B. institution

Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, reported on Sunday that a man with ties to the university has tested positive for COVID-19. University president Leo Groarke added that local public health authorities have already been in touch with anyone he may have come into contact with.

As of Monday, the University New Brunswick has been monitoring the status of two presumptive cases of COVID-19 at the Fredericton campus. The university is working with New Brunswick Public Health on contact tracing, and the health authority is following up with anyone who might be in close contact with the individuals. In his statement, UNB president Paul Mazerolle acknowledged “that we do not have all the answers. I appreciate your patience and understanding as we work through this unprecedented situation.” He added that regular updates on the situation will be sent via UNB email and through UNB’s social media channels.

Government updates

On Sunday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada announced special measures to help temporary and permanent residents, including those here on study permits, who are affected by service disruptions due to the novel coronavirus. IRCC has published a website providing detailed information.

With the Government of Ontario declaring a state of emergency today, expect university buildings, libraries and other university facilities in the province to be closed to anyone but authorized visitors. Please check your institutions’ website for specific information.

More cancellations and advice

The Canadian Association for Graduate Studies has postponed all 3 Minute Thesis contests until further notice.

The Royal Society of Canada has prepared a list of its members who have expertise in the fields of infectious diseases, public health policy, and research ethics, among other subjects relevant to the current pandemic.

Need a Zoom bootcamp? UA columnist Jennifer Polk has prepared an open-access guide for beginners to the video conferencing platform. Find it here.

For higher-ed marketing and communications staff, Ken Steele of Eduvation has been keeping an updated post on communications best practices in response to COVID-19.

March 17, 2020 9:45 a.m. EST

 

Two universities report cases of COVID-19, and one gives the all-clear

Yesterday, the University of Calgary and Quebec City’s Université Laval announced that a member of their communities had tested positive for COVID-19.

In a statement, U of Calgary president Ed McCauley said that the person, who is affiliated with the university’s science department, has been in self-isolation and hadn’t been on campus since March 9. In short, “this individual did everything right.”

“As a result, they were not on campus while exhibiting symptoms,” he adds. “Communicable disease experts believe the risk of additional transmission was significantly reduced by these actions. Cleaning actions will further reduce transmission risk and we have closed the particular facilities associated with this individual until further notice.”

In light of this news, the university is speeding up its efforts to make student services remotely available as of today. It will also provide additional safety training for staffers who must come to campus, and will make accommodations for social distancing.

At ULaval, the law faculty was alerted by public health officials that a student had tested positive for COVID-19. As of this morning, the university is instructing community members who need to come to campus to pick up laptops, work documents or personal items to do so today or tomorrow. Access to campus buildings will be restricted to “authorized persons only.”

On Saturday, the University of Regina reported that two of its students who had been self-isolating on campus had tested negative for COVID-19.

How’s it going? Let us know

Are you an administrator, faculty of staff member at a Canadian university? We’d like to hear from you during these extraordinary times. Please send us a short report on your experiences/observations at your university to editor@univcan.ca and we’ll publish a collection of your stories here.

March 17, 2020 9:15 a.m. EST

 

Student residences

There is a growing push among some universities to get students to leave campus residences as soon as possible. In a message by University of Waterloo president Feridun Hamdullahpur just after 9:00 p.m. last night, he said, “We are strongly encouraging all students to make arrangements to move out of residence by noon on Friday, March 20.”

The University of Guelph is also asking students “to vacate their residences as soon as possible.”

Wilfrid Laurier University is more emphatic, declaring: “The university is requiring all students to move out of Laurier-operated residences at all campus locations by Wednesday, March 18 at 11:59 p.m. We recognize how disruptive this will be as you move out of the space you’ve called home and we’re committed to supporting you through this process.” Only under exceptional circumstances will students be permitted to remain in residence beyond Wednesday, it says. “Students should consider all options, including staying with relatives or friends.”

Students who may be able to remain in residence include:

  • International students;
  • Out-of-province students who need extra time to move out;
  • Students who live more than five hours away from campus; and
  • Students who are currently self-isolating.

Likewise, Brock University has announced that its student residences will be closing this week, and all remaining students, excluding exceptional circumstances, will be required to move out of their residence rooms by 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 19. The only exception to this “will be students who can demonstrate that they have no other alternatives for accommodation.”

Shutting down St. Patrick’s Day celebrations

The University of Waterloo, among others, has another concern: unsanctioned street parties to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today, March 17. The university tweeted: “With the known and rapidly growing global risks of COVID-19, we want to be explicit: going to Ezra Avenue in Waterloo or participating in other unsanctioned public gatherings to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day is irresponsible.”

Ezra Avenue, near the Wilfrid Laurier University campus, is known for its rowdy street parties. Laurier president Deb MacLatchy, also reached out, saying: “Do the right thing on St. Patrick’s Day.”

She continues: “We are in the midst of an extraordinary global health crisis. The world’s top experts are urging all of us to take dramatic action to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). This is not a joke. This is real. … As young adults, it’s true that you are least likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19. But you can easily transmit this virus to others who aren’t as strong as you — small children, grandparents, and those both young and old who have underlying health difficulties and compromised immune systems.

For this reason, I implore you not to be part of the unsanctioned street parties associated with St. Patrick’s Day or any other large public gathering.”

Queen’s University has a similar message. In a tweet, Queen’s principal Patrick Deane and the presidents of the school’s two student societies “urge Queen’s students not to participate in mass social gatherings on St. Patrick’s Day to help slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Despite warnings from various health agencies, students at Queen’s crowded streets this past Saturday to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.

And, just to show that it’s not just students who may be disregarding public health warnings, there’s this story from today’s Globe and Mail: “Not okay, boomer: Tensions mount between generations as some seniors resist social distancing.”

The shift to online learning

In what will likely become a slew of similar stories emerging over the next few weeks, educators are confronting the challenges of moving classes online or to alternative formats. In an article in the National Post, Thierry Karsenti, a Université de Montréal professor in information and communication technologies, says the sudden arrival of online teaching for all of a student’s courses is a major shift.

“Are teachers prepared? No,” he said in an interview. “But when you’re facing challenges, it’s one way to learn. It’s a good time to learn and to overcome these challenges.”

Dr. Karsenti, the who holds the Canada Research Chair on Communication Technologies in Education, has just published a list of nine free tools for online teaching (in English and French) that he says any teacher can use to provide their courses online.

Note, as we reported yesterday, that the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education has developed a new website (www.keepteaching.ca) with resources to assist learning institutions make the shift to alternative forms of teaching. And also yesterday, UA columnist Andrea Eidinger yesterday implored her instructor colleagues to embrace “doing an OK job” as the sector navigates this massive transition.

March 16, 2020 3 p.m. EST

Today, the University of British Columbia has implemented a remote-work arrangement as a three-week pilot project. In addition to course instructors, the university is now requesting all faculty members, staff, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and student staff to work from home, if possible.

At Carleton University, president Benoit-Antoine Bacon published the first of what will be daily letters to update the community. He notes in particular the university’s efforts to decrease density on campus by offering students living in residence pro-rated refunds on room fees and meal plans. (Some other institutions, including the University of Ottawa, have extended similar offers.) He also clarifies Carleton’s intention to support and accommodate international students who are unwilling or unable to return home at this time: “I want to reassure everyone that international students who cannot go home because of travel restrictions will be taken care of not only to the end of the term but this summer as well. This is the Carleton way – we take care of each other.”

Dr. Bacon’s letter refers to major announcements today from the provincial and federal governments. The federal government announced a ban on foreign nationals entering Canada, with some exceptions, beginning on March 18. In his statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also advised Canadians abroad to return home immediately, while flights are still available.

March 16, 2020 12 p.m. EST

 

Quebec’s universities

On recommendations of the Quebec government outlined last Friday, March 13, the entire public education system in Quebec, including universities, has shut down for an initial period of two weeks. For most of the province’s universities, that means libraries and labs are closed, and all but essential research activities are cancelled or ramping down. Université de Montréal, for example, has called for all research teams “to immediately stop face-to-face research activities until March 27 inclusive. Research laboratories must close; only activities that are essential to the maintenance of research facilities or activities associated with experiments already initiated and deemed crucial can continue.” Students, meanwhile, are asked “to avoid showing up on campus until further notice.”

As for student residences, “an analysis will be made to determine the type of access that can be safely maintained,” according to Université de Sherbrooke. The École de technologie supérieure, for its part, said residences remain accessible, but only for those students living in residence.

As in the rest of Canada, most Quebec universities will be turning to distance and online education on or before Monday, March 30. Université Laval announced it will begin a gradual transition to online, while Concordia University and McGill University said they plan to begin offering classes online on March 23 and 30 respectively.

Université de Sherbrooke has put together a list of online teaching resources for the university community. The school has also created chat groups for each course in the winter 2020 term. Université du Québec à Montréal has also published a list of platforms and tools to facilitate distance education for teachers and students (scroll down to “modalités d’enseignements à distance”).

March 16, 2020 9:30 a.m. EST

Weekend recap

Nearly every public university in Canada has now suspended in-person classes, and most are saying this suspension will remain in effect for the rest of the winter term. There are a few exceptions, such as Memorial University and the University of Northern British Columbia, both of which have announced that in-person classes will continue until the end of day Wednesday, March 18. For the moment, university campuses and student residences remain open, although some non-essential services are being curtailed.

If you know of further updates, contact us via email at editor@univcan.ca, on Twitter and Facebook, or leave a comment below.

Online transition

The plan for most universities is to transition to online formats for delivering their classes. Some universities have announced that this transition will begin immediately, while others have said by mid-week, and still others, such as the University of Prince Edward Island, University of New Brunswick and University of Waterloo, are putting classes on pause for a week – until next Monday, March 23 – to work out logistics. Some universities, including U of Waterloo, have already indicated that there will be no in-person exams this term.

The transition to online classes will be a major challenge for universities. A sudden paradigm shift of this magnitude has never been tried before in Canadian higher education.

Perhaps typical of the planning going on, and the messaging around this, is this update from the University of Lethbridge: “To support this transition, we have invested in new technology platforms that allow courses to be delivered in alternative formats, and will advise instructors how to prepare for remote delivery. Instructors will be assisted by a dedicated team of professionals during the two transition days so that they will be able to provide as robust an educational experience as possible, given the challenging circumstances.”

The Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, meanwhile, said it has compiled resources from its educational developer listservs on alternative approaches to teaching and learning. “Our goal is to collate and provide these curated resources to the broader teaching and learning community. To that end, STLHE and its Educational Developers Caucus have developed a new website (www.keepteaching.ca) with resources to assist learning institutions make this shift to protect our faculty, staff and students, while still promoting learning.”

“This new website includes a curated list of resources for teaching and assessment online, convenient links to information on well-being, and links to information on responses by learning institutions. This website will be constantly evolving as we continue to share content. If you have a resource to share for addition to the website, please contact us at edc_communications@stlhe.ca or through the contact form on the new website.”

March 13, 2020

 

Quebec classes cancelled for two weeks

The Government of Quebec announced today that all daycares, schools, CÉGEPs and universities in the province will be closed for two weeks as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. As a consequence, all classes, other academic and administrative activities and events are suspended for two weeks as of Saturday. See examples of these announcements from Bishop’s University and (in French) at Université de Montréal.

Large classes nixed

As with the Government of Quebec, the governments in Ontario and British Columbia have banned all gatherings of 250 people or more. As a result, both the University of Victoria and the University of British Columbia have announced that all in-person classes with more than 250 students — and indeed all on-campus and off-campus events with more than 250 people — are cancelled. However, unlike in Ontario, where most universities have suspended all in-person classes starting today or on Monday, both UBC and UVic will continue with smaller in-person classes for now.

Class cancellations

The latest: in similar wording from other Ontario universities, Nipissing University has announced it is cancelling all classes on Monday, March 16, and Tuesday, March 17, to provide faculty and academic support staff adequate time to prepare to deliver course content in alternative ways. Starting Wednesday, March 18 and for the remainder of the term, all classes will be offered through online or alternative means.

University of Guelph, too: no face-to-face classes will be held for the rest of the term. Courses will resume Monday, March 23 “in an alternative format delivery.” The university will remain open.

And Wilfrid Laurier University: no more in-person instruction for the remainder of the term; next week, “instructors will develop and communicate a plan for alternative instruction and assessment to enable students to fulfill learning outcomes and receive course credits.”

University of Winnipeg has suspended all in-person classes and labs for the remainder of the winter term, which ends on April 3. The campus remains open — including student residences, student support services, research support services and food services.

University of Waterloo has announced it is “suspending all activity for on-campus courses for one week, from March 14 to March 23. At the end of this suspension, all in-person course activity is cancelled until the end of term, including in-person final exams. Instructors are working on alternate ways to deliver remaining course work and exams/assessments.”

University of Ottawa: Classes on Monday, March 16, and Tuesday, March 17, 2020 are cancelled. As of Wednesday, March 18, all in-person classes and labs in the current (Winter 2020) term will be moved to distance and online learning formats for the rest of the semester. Plans are currently being developed for the exam period. Exams will not be taken in-person.

Brock University is suspending face-to-face classes for the rest of this academic term and is working on a plan to move to alternative forms of class and exam delivery. “The goal will be to resume virtual classes the week of Monday, March 23 for those instructors who are able to mount their classes in a virtual environment.” The university’s campuses remain open, including student residences, and researchers and grad students will have access to their labs.

From Queen’s University: “starting on Monday, all undergraduate (excluding health professional programs) will be suspended for one week after which we will communicate our plans for alternative delivery. We need to take time to assess how our educational programs will proceed.  The university will maintain all operations. Some students may decide to return home and that is left to individual choice. Residences will remain open.”

As of Monday, March 16, until Friday, April 3, the University of Toronto is cancelling “all in-person undergraduate and research-stream Masters and Doctoral courses across U of T’s three campuses, and we will provide that teaching by other means.” (Classes today will continue as planned.) With respect to professional programs, “consultation is ongoing today to determine the appropriate course of action.” University operations continue, and all three U of T campuses remain open.

Ryerson University just announced, as of today, it will be will begin to move to online formats. “The week of March 16 will be a week of transition for the university, allowing faculty and staff time to explore and implement alternate forms of program delivery. All courses will have these alternate arrangements finalized by Monday, March 23.” Further actions: Effective immediately, all university-sanctioned international travel by students and staff is cancelled until August 31 or further notice; all discretionary Ryerson events on and off-campus scheduled from now until May 1 are being cancelled or postponed, including those planned by student groups.

Carleton University has cancelled classes for Monday, March 16 and Tuesday, March 17 “to give teaching staff time to prepare for alternative modes of content delivery. … Starting Wednesday, March 18 and for the remainder of the term, instruction will be delivered through online and other means. Instructors will make arrangements to complete their classes in the way that is most appropriate for their course material and learning objectives, and they will be communicating these plans with students.”

McMaster University is suspending in-person classes at the end of today, March 13. “Instructors will let students know by March 18 how the remainder of their course work will be managed and grades evaluated so they can complete their credits.” No in-person exams will be held at the end of the term. All discretionary events at the university had already been cancelled as of yesterday.

Trent University is suspending classes as of now and “plans to deliver its classes online or through other alternative means of delivery beginning Wednesday, March 18.”

York University also just announced that, beginning on Monday, March 16, all face-to-face instruction will be suspended as the university moves courses to online formats. The university added that it “is committed to completing the term and will deploy all of our resources to support faculty and students through this transition.”

Western University announced yesterday evening that it has cancelled classes starting today, March 13 and lasting until Tuesday, March 17, inclusively. This short break is intended “to provide instructors and academic support staff adequate time to prepare to deliver course content in alternative ways.” Then, as of Wednesday, March 18 and for the remainder of the term, Western will be moving its classes online. Clinical placements will continue in their current mode, and all university buildings remain open.

Ontario Tech University also cancelled classes effective today, “as we ask our faculty to transition toward online forms of delivery.” Further communication will be provided on Monday, March 16 at the latest.

University of Calgary, University of Alberta and University of Lethbridge have also all suspended classes for today. The temporary suspension, according to U of C, “will allow consultation with public health experts, government officials and other postsecondary institutions on appropriate next steps.”

Similarly, Concordia University has cancelled all classes from March 13 to 15, and libraries will be closed. As for what happens as of March 16, “we are finalizing plans for alternative forms of delivery and will be communicating on this shortly.” McGill University has suspended classes and exams for today, while other university operations are expected to be carried out normally. No word yet on what happens after that.

Quebec universities

Concordia, McGill and all other Quebec universities are also affected by a Quebec government decree announced by Premier François Legault yesterday banning all indoor gatherings of more than 250 people. As a Université de Montréal statement specified, this includes all courses and other face-to-face teaching activities that bring together more than 250 students.

U de M has also canceled all international teaching and research activities, regardless of whether the region is under an active COVID-19 warning. Significantly, this edict will be in effect “until the fall term” (most universities have not specified how long travel restrictions may be in effect). The university has further cancelled all professional-related travel outside of Quebec for administrative and support personnel, again until the fall.

As well, the university recommends that all members of the university community avoid any personal travel abroad. “Community members who do not respect these guidelines should be aware that they may not be covered by UdeM insurance, both for medical expenses and for cancellation of trips,” reads the statement (in French).

HEC Montréal, meanwhile, announced that all non-essential events not related to teaching and research are cancelled “until further notice.”

March 12, 2020

Classes suspended

Perhaps the most significant event in the past 24 hours was the announcement yesterday that Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, was suspending classes immediately “as a precaution.” As of today, March 12, all classes will be “moved to online delivery until further notice.” The university also suspended all other “in-person activities such as laboratories.”

“With a known case of the virus in our community, we aim to take proactive measures to prevent the spread of this illness. We understand that changes in our day-to-day operations will create challenges and disruptions, however, we believe the risk of not taking action is of greater concern to our community,” said the statement.

The move by Laurentian was spurred by the announcement that an individual from Sudbury, who had attended the Prospectors and Developers Conference (PDAC) in Toronto, had tested positive for COVID-19. “As with every year, Laurentian had a major presence at the PDAC, including many members of our community who attended,” said a statement.


Read also: It’s complicated: the ethics of pandemic preparedness and response


Risk assessed as “low”

So far, no other public Canadian universities have announced the cancellation of in-person classes. Most universities, in their communications to their campuses – such as this statement from the University of British Columbia – are deferring to the Public Health Agency of Canada, which currently assesses the public health risk associated with COVID-19 as low.

Many universities are reporting that they have plans in place if classes are cancelled. York University, for example, states that, “We have developed a comprehensive plan to ensure that we can complete the academic term in the event that we are required for health and safety reasons to reduce face-to-face classroom instruction.”

Travel, study abroad, Congress

Quite a few universities have cancelled all study-abroad initiatives and suspended most work-related travel. The University of Alberta, for example, has declared that “all travel outside Alberta not considered vital to the academic mission of the university is … suspended.”

McMaster University, meanwhile, has decided to end “all undergraduate and graduate student international travel for McMaster-related activities,” effective immediately. Graduate students with specific circumstances can request a waiver, which requires “written approval of either the provost or the vice-provost, international.”

At Western University, president Alan Shepard announced that the university “has cancelled future university-sanctioned travel for all students” and strongly encourages faculty and staff to defer travel to countries with active health notices for COVID-19. “We are also receiving inquiries related to Congress 2020 and Convocation and, at this time, it is premature to make decisions as these events are months away,” he said. (Western hosts this year’s Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, from May 30 to June 5.)

In an update today, Congress organizers have stated that “if Congress does not go ahead, all attendees will be eligible for a full refund of their Congress fee. Refunds of association conference fees will be managed on a case-by-case basis, based on association’s contingency plans.”

Internationally

On March 10, according to UNESCO, the crisis is now impacting close to 363 million learners worldwide, from the pre-primary to tertiary level, including 57.8 million students in higher education. One in five students worldwide is staying away from school due to the COVID-19 crisis and an additional one in four is being kept out of higher education establishments. Fifteen countries have ordered nationwide school closures and 14 have implemented localized closures, spanning Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America. These numbers are now almost certainly out of date.

In the U.S. alone, over the past several days, more than 200 universities and colleges, including institutions such as Princeton, MIT and Berkeley, have announced they are suspending or cancelling classes, with a plan to transition courses to online platforms (see an updated spreadsheet here). Some universities, such as Harvard, have asked students not to return to campus at all, including to student dormitories, after the spring recess, which at Harvard runs from March 14 to March 22.

Have your say

How has COVID-19 affected your institution? The Canadian Bureau for International Education is conducting a 5-to-10-minute survey “to better understand how Canadian education institutions have been impacted by COVID-19.” CBIE will analyze the survey findings and plans to publish an anonymized special report “which will inform the sector’s ongoing advocacy and communications related to the COVID-19 outbreak.” Surveys must be completed by end of day tomorrow, March 13.

Tri-Agencies funding

Canada’s Tri-Agencies (CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC) announced last week that funds will be made available to reimburse fees accrued by researchers who’ve had to cancel grant-related travel due to COVID-19 restrictions.

COMMENTS
Post a comment
University Affairs moderates all comments according to the following guidelines. If approved, comments generally appear within one business day. We may republish particularly insightful remarks in our print edition or elsewhere.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. J.Creagh / March 13, 2020 at 10:58

    What about Guelph University, what is their status?
    Thank you

  2. Sam Silverstone / March 13, 2020 at 15:59

    If I were a secondary- education institution (whether vocational school, college, CEGEP, university
    or otherwise) and have the option to end inperson classes and to go online instead and let students
    stay home and complete their year online, I would take that option given the current uncertainties surrounding COVID-19. Most of these post-secondary institutions (except for those in Ontario) have
    not exercised this option instead wilfully hoping all will be well or until a student or staff or family member of any of these institutions gets the COVID-19! The legally responsible action for any educational institution at this point in time and given the above online option for students is to exercise that option and send students and staff home, NOT to wish and wait until there is one or more COVID-19 cases, suspected or otherwise on campus. This especially true for institutions offering residence accomodations for their students. CAUTION to all such institutions: it is not so farfetched that any student or staff suffering damages or injury (or death) from the COVID-19 could sue the institution for gross negligence in not having exercised the closure and online option instead of the high risk option of maintaining inperson classes in face of the unknown. I wonder whether legal counsels for theses educational institutions
    are being involved in discussions and decisions to continue student inperson attendance or instead
    to stay home and continue classes and work online in greater safety?

  3. Helen / March 20, 2020 at 13:21

    Would now be a good time to point out to university administrators that their heavy reliance on contract instructors perpetuates the social determinants of health issues which arise in relation to precarious employment? We have an entire cohort of PhD’s saddled with the related student debt, who have been earning a fraction of what their permanently employed counterparts earn facing unemployment at the end of the semester. Since nobody is in a hurry to shake hands, not a lot of job interviews will be happening for the foreseeable future. So much for equity in academia.

  4. Karsten Loepelmann / March 23, 2020 at 18:15

    This is incorrect: “…the University of Alberta extended the same offer [to have the choice to receive a letter grade for their winter term courses, or to opt for pass/fail] to students late last week.” UAlberta has gone with pass/fail only, which has greatly upset many people.

    It would be nice to have a tally of which Canadian institutions have gone with pass/fail vs. opt in to receive a letter grade.

  5. marko / April 1, 2020 at 11:51

    Are their still maintenance/cleaning staff and trades still working in Canadian universities and why?