Editor’s note: please check back regularly for more updates.
December 2, 2020
COVID-19 cases on campus
The outbreak at University Hospital at the Western University campus has gotten worse. Seven people have died and 83 were infected across seven units at the hospital. The London Free Press reports that three new deaths linked to the outbreak were announced Tuesday. “What we believe happens is that there was just an abundance of transmission within staff — potentially through eating together or something to that effect — that resulted in pretty rapid transmission,” Alex Summers, associate medical officer of health at the Middlesex-London Health Unit, said.
Another outbreak of COVID-19 has been tied to a varsity sports team. Eighteen players on the Mount Royal University men’s hockey team tested positive. The cases include coaching staff and players. Several members of the team are now self-isolating. The Calgary institution says this is the first instance the virus has spread within the campus community – individual cases won’t by publicly reported. The university also notes that provincial restrictions have suspended varsity training until after the new year.
A new case of COVID-19 has been confirmed at the University of Windsor. A total of 10 cases were reported at the institution in November, eight of which have been deemed “resolved.”
An individual at the Physical Plant at the University of Manitoba tested positive for the virus. The individual was on the Fort Garry and Bannatyne campuses from November 24 to 26 and asymptomatic.
From November 26 to 29, a person who had been on the University of Toronto’s St. George campus tested positive for COVID-19. The university’s COVID dashboard also notes that a total of two new cases were reported in the U of T community – these individuals “may not have been physically present at the university, and exposure may not have occurred on our campuses. These are simply members of our community who have reported to the Occupational Health & Safety Office that they have tested positive whether they have been on campus or not.”
The University of Calgary has updated its case count by one after an individual in the Health Research Innovation Centre at the Foothills campus tested positive. Their infectious window on campus was November 23.
Federal financial update
The federal government released a fall economic statement on Monday in lieu of a full budget announcement. The update presented by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland largely focused on the Liberals’ ongoing financial approach to COVID-19 and its economic fallout. It projects a deficit of $381.6 billion by late March 2021, with the possibility that pandemic-related developments could lead that number to grow.
Among the latest financial plans, the government proposes supports for families with children, renewable energies and green building, policing, long-term care facilities, as well as for COVID testing, vaccine roll-out and the maintenance of emergency funding for individuals and businesses.
Of particular interest to the postsecondary sector is the announcement of new supports for students and young people:
- The cancellation of interest payments on the federal portion Canada Student Loans and Canada Apprentice Loans for the 2021-22 academic year.
- An additional $447.5 million for the Canada Summer Jobs program for the creation of 40,000 new job placements next summer, for a total of 120,000 job opportunities for young people.
- $575.3 million over two years for the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy to help fund 45,300 job placements for youth who have had their employment opportunities affected by the pandemic.
The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations was generally pleased with the news. However, in a press release published after the economic update, the group called out the federal government for once again failing to include specific aid to international students: “While we are thankful for the investments made, we continue to see gaps in investment for international students and mature learners. Specifically, international students have been completely left out of the government’s COVID-19 aid package, and many continue to face significant barriers to supporting themselves in Canada and accessing work opportunities.”
Also worth noting from the update: the Canada Revenue Agency will allow some taxpayers to claim up to $400 for work-from-home expenses without requiring them to provide detailed documents explaining the deductions. CRA will soon provide more details on the tax deduction.
Students in Peel, Toronto concerned about graduation in light of lockdown
When lockdown measures returned to Toronto and Ontario’s Peel region on November 23, it meant the suspension of lab-based research and experiential education for many students in health care and other practical programs, with groups limited to 10 people. The Toronto Star reports that several postsecondary institutions in the province are petitioning the Ontario government to make an exception to the 10-person rule for them. The Council of Ontario Universities told the Star that its members are “working with the government regarding the new COVID-19 restrictions. The continuation of required in-person, ‘hands-on’ training is vital to ensuring the supply of health-care practitioners critical to Ontario’s hospitals and health-care system.”
SK med students ask province to step up COVID response
Meanwhile, medical students in Saskatchewan have petitioned their provincial government to do more to help curb the spread of COVID-19. “We ask you to further consider the advice of the hundreds of Saskatchewan medical experts and take decisive action to protect the residents of Saskatchewan … The incredible community in this province will rally behind initiatives that protect the lives of their families, their friends, and their neighbours,” reads an open letter signed by more than 100 students at the University of Saskatchewan. The students are asking for calls for an expansion of COVID testing, improved contact-tracing and better public health messaging to combat misinformation about the virus.
Remote learning to continue through summer term at York
York University will extend its remote learning plans for fall/winter into the summer term. Last week the institution’s senate approved the decision, noting that “where remote learning is not able to accommodate course components such as labs, studios or small graduate classes, York will maintain flexibility and make best efforts to accommodate requests for in-person instruction.” Staff will continue to work virtually, unless asked by management to return to campus.
StFX pushes on with in-person exams
Students at St. Francis Xavier University will write their exams in person at the end of the term. According to a Global News report, academic vice-president Kevin B. Wamsley sent an email last week informing students that the Nova Scotia university will complete the semester as planned despite the rising number of COVID cases in the Atlantic region. He added, “Keep calm and study on.” Several students have spoken out against the university’s response.
November 30, 2020
COVID-19 cases on campus
Over the weekend, the Middlesex-London Health Unit updated the case count for an outbreak at University Hospital on the Western University campus. The latest numbers show 26 patients and 28 staff members have contracted the virus. The increase in cases has prompted the hospital to postpone non-urgent surgeries and procedures.
McMaster University and the University of Windsor have each reported one new case of COVID-19, both involving an individual who had recently been on campus. Two cases were identified at the University of Waterloo over the weekend, plus one case was reported there last Thursday.
Eight players on University of Calgary’s women’s basketball team have tested positive for COVID-19. The province informed the public of these cases last Tuesday. Since then, the university’s COVID case tracker website has been updated and lists a total of 12 cases within the past 14 days.
An outbreak at Nipissing University also involving student athletes has reached 16 positive cases. One case involves a student living in residence.
Atlantic University Sport cancels all play
With cases among the student-athlete population a growing concern – and with cases on the rise in Atlantic Canada more generally – it’s little surprise that Atlantic University Sport had decided to cancel all regular season play, post-season activities and championship games for the remainder of the academic year.
MtA to finish fall term online
The spread of the virus in Canada’s Atlantic region has led Mount Allison University to cancel in-person classes. On November 26, the university in Sackville, New Brunswick, announced that the remainder of the fall term will take place entirely online. The institution is one of the few Canadian universities that offered a full slate of face-to-face courses and activities this year. As of November 25, all campus buildings were made accessible only to current students, faculty and staff.
Dalhousie prof runs pop-ups for rapid COVID testing
An infectious disease researcher with the faculty of medicine at Dalhousie University coordinated a testing site on campus last week. The pop-up at the university’s downtown Sexton campus offered rapid COVID-19 tests for hundreds of Haligonians. Dal News explains that unlike the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s assessment centre, the downtown pop-up testing site was intended for people who are asymptomatic as “a way to identify cases that might not be captured through standard testing protocols.” The researcher, Lisa Barrett, told CBC News that the point of the clinic is to “get a sense of how many people are out there who don’t know that they’re actually infected and who need to know so that they can take precautions for themselves and their family and friends.” Dr. Barrett has also been involved in pop-ups at a bar in downtown Halifax and at Alderney Gate Public Library in Dartmouth.
Surveys suggest student mental health is suffering
Several reports on student mental health have come out in the past few weeks and the results are all pretty stark: students are struggling more than ever.
Last week, the Toronto Star published an in-depth investigation into the state of mental health for students at postsecondary institutions. The results of the institutional survey conducted by the Star and the Investigative Journalism Bureau give the impression of “a postsecondary system overwhelmed by unmet need.” The reporters asked each school to report observations from the past few years on the change in: the number of mental-health counselling appointments; the number of mental-health accommodations and tailored supports; days between a student requesting and receiving counselling; budgets for mental-health services; the number of staff providing mental-health services, among other data.
The newspaper also interviewed more than 150 students who self-identified as dealing with mental-health challenges. The vast majority reported that school workload is a key factor in their struggles, followed by deadlines, family issues and isolation. Most had not sought treatment for anxiety, depression or other mental-health illnesses until after they had started postsecondary school.
A new survey by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations took a more focused look at the impact of remote learning on students and faculty members. The group found that, overall, “online learning has negatively impacted the quality of university education,” with some 62 percent of students and 76 percent of faculty members supporting that observation. The quality of education topped students’ concerns, but it was closely followed by mental-health challenges related to changes arising from the pandemic (55 percent reported this concern, which was tied with concerns about academic performance due to COVID-related changes). In an interview with the Canadian Press, OCUFA president Rahul Sapra noted that a lack of interpersonal connection is at the heart of these stressors: “As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the scramble to move courses online, we have lost that human connection and educational quality has suffered.”
A summary of “COVID-19 and the Impact on University Life and Education” is available on the OCUFA website.
Data from Memorial University’s Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL) supports the OCUFA findings. Memorial asked undergraduate and graduate students in October to identify the main challenge they faced in the fall 2020 semester. From 2,786 responses, they determined some major themes in student perceptions: an overwhelming workload in courses; a lack of timely and meaningful communication with instructors and other students; mental health, physical health and school/life/work balance related to workload; concerns with instruction quality; and a lack of understanding and flexibility on the part of instructors. The survey report is available on the CITL website. The centre’s director, Gavan Watson, shared the report – and a few thoughts about it – on Twitter last week.
Important to note that while this document focuses on challenges, this is not to say that students did not have positive learning experiences this Fall. These experiences would not appear in this report as it was not within the scope of the question we asked.
— Gavan Watson (@gavatron) November 25, 2020
And students at the University of Prince Edward are feeling much the same way, according to a survey of 1,131 students conducted by the student union in early November. Some 63 percent of respondents said they’re struggling more with mental-health issues, though 13.7 percent had accessed on-campus supports, the CBC reports. “The student union is making several recommendations, including better access to a broad array of mental health counselling. Student leaders are also calling for improvements to online materials, including clearer course outlines and shorter, more concise online lectures.”
UPEI is one of many postsecondary institutions in Canada to offer its students an extended break between fall and winter terms in recognition of the tough year it’s been so far. (Read our news story, published today, on how Université de Sherbrooke, Concordia, McMaster and Acadia universities are coordinating a delayed winter term.) Many students are also seeking an extension of compassionate grading options for the fall and winter terms – and some universities, such as Dalhousie and Brandon (see our November 23 update) are complying with this request.
November 25, 2020
COVID cases on campus: update
In an update posted yesterday, Bishop’s University reported 16 positive cases in campus residences and at least 12 cases off campus. Due to evidence of community transmission, eight of the residence cases are considered an outbreak. The university has also learned that a student contracted the virus from an outbreak at a local pub and brought it to residence. Many students who tested positive “have left campus and Lennoxville and are isolating elsewhere,” the university explains. “Those in isolation on campus are having meals delivered and they will remain in isolation as required. Those who have contracted COVID-19 are all recovering well.” As a result of the ongoing situation on campus, Bishop’s dean of student affairs, Stine Linden-Andersen, announced that the university will finish the fall semester online.
Nipissing University’s COVID-19 case count has jumped to six, up from two earlier this week. The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit has declared it a community COVID-19 outbreak as the six cases involve members of Nipissing’s student athlete community. The university notes that all affected individuals live off campus; however, three COVID-positive people have been on campus, at the R.J. Surtees Student Athletics Centre. The centre was closed on November 18 for a deep cleaning.
St. Mary’s University has confirmed a case of COVID-19 in its community. The news comes as cases are on the rise in Halifax and Nova Scotia introduces new travel and gathering restrictions that take effect tomorrow.
The University of Windsor has reported a new case in its community. It’s the second case the university has reported in as many weeks. The cases are unrelated.
The Middlesex-London Health Unit is working with the London Health Sciences Centre to respond to a “significant” outbreak at London’s University Hospital, located on the Western University campus. According to a news release posted by the public health authority, an outbreak declared on November 10 has been expanded from a single floor to all medical floors at the hospital. Yesterday, 10 new cases of COVID-19 were linked to the hospital outbreak. “In all, there have been 34 cases associated with the outbreak including 16 cases among hospital staff, 18 cases among patients and one death. Additionally, there are currently six cases associated with a smaller, second outbreak on the ninth floor at University Hospital,” the release explains. The hospital has paused new admissions for seven days in an effort to get the outbreak under control.
For a daily look at case counts at Canadian postsecondary institutions, higher-ed strategist Ken Steele is tracking campus-related COVID cases in this live spreadsheet.
The CBC is reporting that some 100 students at the University British Columbia are currently under investigation for cheating on an online exam. According to the news outlet, the investigation became public knowledge after a note to students from the professor leading the course in question was circulated online this week: “I am extremely disappointed to tell you that there were over 100 cases of cheating. … If confirmed, the students involved will receive a 0% for the course (not just the midterm) and I will recommend their expulsion from UBC.” The CBC says it hasn’t verified the note or the identity of the note’s author, however UBC told the broadcaster that there is an ongoing investigation into widespread cheating in a first-year section of the math department. The news article notes that over 1,500 students are registered in UBC’s Math 100 online course, with classes divided into about 250 students each.
Meanwhile, students at Polytechnique Montréal are protesting the institution’s decision to hold face-to-face final exams. The institution confirmed this week that finals will be held in four halls at Montreal’s convention centre, the Palais des congrès, in order to allow for social distancing between students. Pierre Baptiste, Polytechnique professor and assistant director of training and research, told the Montreal Gazette that no more than 850 students would be writing exams at the conference centre at a time. The halls can accommodate a total of 10,000 individuals. The institution will allow anyone who is concerned about the in-person exam to push their tests to January instead, while students who are outside the country, living in remote areas, who are immunocompromised or have disabilities will be permitted to write their exams online.
Despite these accommodations and the safety measures that the university says it will take – including temperature checks and regular disinfecting of surfaces – some students are unhappy with the decision. “We should not have to choose between our health and our education,” Malak Ismail, a 28-year-old industrial engineering student, told the Gazette. “I feel the school has not considered how the situation has evolved.”
November 23, 2020
COVID cases on campus: update
McMaster University has reported three cases of COVID-19 on campus. Two unrelated cases involved employees – one is an employee with an external company working on campus who tested positive on November 19. That person was last on campus on November 16. The other university employee was in the faculty of health sciences space in the McMaster University Medical Centre and the Psychology Building on November 14. The third case involved a student who had been at McMaster’s Innovation Park on November 17 and 18.
Western University reported outbreaks at two student residences last week. Eight cases were confirmed at Saugeen-Maitland Hall. Three cases were identified in Perth Hall. All residents who have tested positive and some close contacts have been moved to a quarantine location. The university is offering these students support through food delivery, transportation, access to medical and mental health care as well as academic accommodations as needed. “As we see COVID-19 case numbers go up across the province and the country, we know this may be causing additional anxiety for our students at an already stressful time leading into the exam period,” Jennifer Massey, Western’s associate vice-president, student experience, said in a statement on the university’s website. “We have extra staff on hand over the weekend to help support our students and answer any questions they or their families might have.”
Last week, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine at Lakehead University confirmed a case of COVID-19 within its community. The school clarified that the individual had been at the Balmoral Street Centre at Lakehead on November 10, but didn’t come into direct contact with anyone that day.
According to CBC, the University of New Brunswick’s Saint John campus alerted its community over the weekend that some individuals may have been exposed to a case of COVID-19. The university took to Twitter to clarify that no case had been confirmed on campus, however. The broadcaster explains that several businesses in Saint John are taking similar steps to report potential exposure as cases rise in the region.
Two Dalhousie University students living off campus have contracted COVID-19. The university confirmed the cases on November 22 and clarified that the students had been studying remotely this term.
Nipissing University has also reported two cases in the community. Both involve individuals living off campus who had been at the campus athletics centre in the past two weeks.
A unit at the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon is managing a COVID-19 outbreak. The hospital is located on the University of Saskatchewan campus. The university reported seven positive cases for the seven-day period ending November 19.
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit confirmed a case of COVID-19 at the University of Windsor. The affected member of the campus community is self-isolating and all appropriate protocols and cleaning measures have been taken.
Bishop’s University reported seven new cases on Friday involving individuals on an off campus. These new cases bring the university’s total to 15. Because of the steep increase in numbers, Bishop’s has suspended most in-person activities until the morning of Wednesday, November 25. The decision applies to all face-to-face classes, which will move online.
Brandon U extends pass/fail option
Students at Brandon University will have the option to convert conventional grades to pass/fail this academic year. The university has extended the optional grading scheme it introduced for the previous academic year in response to challenges students have faced during the ongoing pandemic. In a news release posted to the institution’s website, Brandon registrar Andrea McDaniel explained the decision: “This is a time for compassion. These options offer much-needed flexibility for students, recognizing that they continue to face ongoing disruption, unpredictable circumstances, and new challenges.”
Memorial delays return to campus
Memorial University has postponed plans to welcome non-academic staff back to campus. The return-to-campus plan for employees was to start today, but the university has opted to delay it due to rising cases of COVID-19 in the province. (See our update posted on November 16 for more information on Memorial’s original plan.)
U of T’s largest faculty moves to online–only courses this winter
The faculty of arts and science at the University of Toronto has ditched a hybrid learning model in favour of online-only courses for the upcoming winter term. Dean Melanie Woodin made the announcement on November 20, the same day that Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a 28-day lockdown for the Toronto and Peel region starting today. According to The Varsity, the faculty had originally planned to offer dual-delivery courses for the 2020-2021 academic year. The faculty moved fall courses online on October 10.
New figures on international student enrolment for 2020-21
According to data from Course Compare, some 50 postsecondary institutions in Canada have seen a 9 percent average drop in international student enrolment. Atlantic Canada as well as the provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec experienced “higher than expected enrolment as Canadian students and adult learners flocked to programs as the unemployment rate remained high.”
The company notes that actual international student enrolment numbers range from a 7 percent increase to a 50 percent decrease compared to last year’s fall semester, with first-year student enrolment particularly hard hit.
November 18, 2020
U of Alberta clarifies province’s new pandemic restrictions, confirms remote work through winter
In Monday’s update (November 16) we mentioned that Alberta’s provincial government had put in place new pandemic-related restrictions, including a temporary ban on in-person artistic performances, which would lead to the cancellation of performance arts and music classes on campus. The province and the University of Alberta have clarified that the new restrictions do not, in fact, apply to singing, dance and theatre activities at schools. “Therefore, at this time fall 2020 singing, dance, and theatre activities that are a part of approved in-person courses will continue unaffected by recent provincial restrictions.”
U of A also confirmed that faculty and staff currently working remotely will continue in this format through to at least April 30, 2021. Administration will revisit the university’s remote work plan in mid-March.
More Canadian universities to welcome international students this winter
Immigration and Citizenship Canada has updated the list of designated learning institutions that are permitted to welcome international students to campus. To make the list, the institution’s COVID-19 response plan must be approved by the appropriate provincial or territorial government. International students registered at approved DLIs will be exempt from travel bans at Canadian borders.
Several institutions in Ontario have been added to the list:
- Brescia University College
- Huron University College
- King’s University College
- Université de Hearst
- Laurentian University
- Nipissing University
- OCAD University
- Renison University College
- Ryerson University
- University of Waterloo
- Western University
- University of Windsor
The next update is scheduled for December 1.
COVID-19 cases on campus
A staff member at Université de Moncton has tested positive for COVID-19. In an announcement posted to its website on Monday, the university noted that this is the first case associated with the institution and it has been deemed low risk by public health authorities.
The University of Calgary posted four new case notifications since Monday.
Last week, the University of Saskatchewan reported two positive COVID-19 cases in the community, both on and off campus.
In an email to the community yesterday, the chair of Bishop’s University’s COVID-19 task force, Stine Linden-Andersen, confirmed an outbreak at the institution. Five people tested positive this past weekend and three of those cases were contracted through community transmission. This brings the university’s total count to eight cases. (The regional health authority website linked to above also notes that Université de Sherbrooke is currently reporting less than five cases.)
Over last weekend, Toronto Public Health alerted the University of Toronto to four cases of COVID-19 that were traced back to an unofficial sports activity held at the St. George campus downtown. The event happened on November 8. The health authority determined the cases to be of low risk to the community.
York University has one confirmed case listed on its COVID-19 website. The site was last updated on November 16.
At Trent University, one case was reported on November 15. The individual lives off-campus and was last on campus November 13.
Hybrid terms for ECUAD, Royal Roads
Two institutions in British Columbia have decided to go ahead with hybrid course models for next term. Emily Carr University of Art + Design’s spring term, which begins in January 2021 will “look very similar to our current fall term. Seventy percent of courses will be delivered entirely online. The remaining 30 percent will be … a mix of online and in-person delivery.”
Royal Roads University plans to offer five programs through face-to-face instruction on campus this January. Three of the programs are at the master’s level and two are undergraduate degrees. In total, about 200 students have registered for the five programs.
November 16, 2020
Sherbrooke universities move courses online as Eastern Townships deemed Red Zone
The Eastern Townships is the latest region in Quebec to be declared a Red Zone, the province’s highest risk level for COVID-19 infections. As a result, Bishop’s University and Université de Sherbrooke have both moved all hybrid and in-person classes to online-only (with a few exceptions, such as for courses with a clinical component). This change is in effect for the rest of the fall term.
U de Sherbrooke noted that despite these latest changes, it will prioritize in-person learning for the winter 2021 term. The francophone university said 60 percent of its courses were offered in person for the fall term and that it will maintain those offerings this winter.
New restrictions for Manitoba universities as province heightens COVID response
As Manitoba struggles with record-high positivity rates, the provincial government has imposed new restrictions while transitioning its pandemic response to critical, or red, level. According to the University of Winnipeg, “additional restrictions do not affect the classes, labs, and research activities that are already authorized to take place on campus – as these adhere to safety protocols under the existing public health order.”
The University of Manitoba clarified some of the health and safety measures that would be put into place, including: mandatory disposable three-ply masks for campus visitors involved in academic and research activities; requiring all work be done remotely where possible; the closure of common spaces except those that are essential; reduction of available study spaces. The full list is on the U of Manitoba website.
COVID-19 case counts on campus
An outbreak of COVID-19 has been declared at MacEwan University. The news came on Friday after 12 students in MacEwan’s theatre arts program tested positive for the virus. Forty-five students are enrolled in the program at the Edmonton institution. Students in this cohort last attended face-to-face classes on campus on October 23. The university has since moved all theatre arts program online, with on-campus classes set to resume on November 30. (The move to online courses for theatre arts also follows a directive from the province, which banned singing, dancing and theatre performances until November 27. This transition also applies to music courses.)
Canadian Mennonite University has alerted the community to a confirmed case at its Shaftesbury campus. The individual was on campus on the afternoon of November 3. “At this point, this is considered to be a low-risk situation,” the university said in a news release.
Non-academic staff to return to campus at Memorial
Starting next Monday, Memorial University will begin to welcome back non-academic staff to campus. The university has introduced a plan for a gradual return to campus. With COVID-19 cases fairly low in Newfoundland and Labrador, the university has decided it’s safe to resume some in-person activities. Memorial announced that non-academic staff will come back “for a minimum of two days a week, beginning Nov. 23, with an intended full return during the first half of 2021.”
November 11, 2020
Hospital halts student placements after UWindsor nursing students test positive for COVID-19
Several nursing students at the University of Windsor have tested positive for COVID-19. The affected students had all been on work placements at the Windsor Regional Hospital. The hospital said that the students – four from U of Windsor and one from St. Clair College – contracted the virus through community transmission and not from the hospital. It has recommended that 15 hospital staff and 13 patients get tested after coming into close contact with the students. As a result of the outbreak, the hospital has suspended all placements for nursing students as well as some student clinical placements on specific floors.
More cases on campus
On Monday, the University of Waterloo declared a COVID outbreak at a campus residence after two students living in Claudette Miller Hall tested positive for the virus. The university says the latest cases are related to another confirmed case reported on November 5. The students are self-isolating in designated suites on campus.
A Halloween party has led to an outbreak in residence at the University of Windsor. Five students have contracted the virus and another 18 residents of Alumni Hall are now self-isolating. According to the Windsor Star, a person travelled outside of Windsor-Essex before attending the party with mild symptoms of COVID-19. Wajid Ahmed, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit medical officer of health, said that the university has acted quickly to mitigate any additional risk and that “there is no ongoing risk to the students at this time.”
U of A neuroscientist dies of complications related to COVID-19
Richard “Dick” Stein, a former faculty member in the department of physiology at the University of Alberta, has died after contracting COVID-19. Dr. Stein, who had been a resident of the Parkinson’s disease unit at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre, passed away on November 3 from COVID-related pneumonia. In an obituary, U of A recalls that Dr. Stein helped build the physiology department and co-founded the Neuroscience Group, now the Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute. He was a professor at the U of A for 50 years before retiring in June 2018. A graduate student scholarship was named in his honour.
Outdoor classrooms here to stay at USherbrooke
This fall, Université de Sherbrooke decided to prioritize in-person learning by relying on several non-traditional classrooms. The university adapted arts venues, church sites and campus green space for course use. The experiment went over well enough that the outdoor classrooms will become a permanent fixture at the university. Christine Hudon, vice-rectrice of students, told La Tribune that both students and instructors responded positively to the experience, and the institution will continue to offer these teaching spaces on a voluntary basis.
King’s at Western offers job guarantee
The pandemic has severely cut back work opportunities for students and new grads. As the job market contracts, university enrolment in Canada has largely remained steady, particularly where domestic students are concerned. It’s in this context that King’s University College, affiliated with Western University, has introduced a job guarantee for graduates. The King’s Promise is a suite of career and personal development programs that the university guarantees will lead to meaningful employment for participating students within six months of graduation.
King’s expands on the new signature program in a press release: “The focus of the program is on student engagement and career development enabling students to become adaptive, intuitive and compassionate leaders. Students will participate in opportunities that will expand their outlook and provide valuable experiences that they can include in a resume, speak about in an interview and use to guide their own personal growth.”
November 9, 2020
More universities to welcome international students to campus
On November 3, the federal government added several universities to its list of designated learning institutions that have been approved to welcome international students from abroad. These institutions have been added to the list since it was first published by Immigration and Citizenship on October 20:
- Lakehead University*
- McMaster University*
- University of Guelph*
- Ontario Tech University*
- Acadia University*
- Acadia University: English Language Centre
- Cape Breton University*
- Dalhousie University*
- Dalhousie University ESL Programs
- Mount Saint Vincent University*
- Saint Mary’s University*
- The Language Centre at Saint Mary’s University
- St. Francis Xavier University*
- University of King’s College*
- Nova Scotia College of Art and Design*
- Canadian Mennonite University*
- Fairleigh Dickinson University
- Stephen’s University
*Member of Universities Canada.
CFI announces recipients of latest COVID-related funding
The federal government has released the results of the latest round of research funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation. The CFI Exceptional Opportunities Fund will distribute nearly $28 million in research infrastructure and equipment support for 79 projects related to COVID-19 at 52 universities and research hospitals, colleges, polytechnics and Cégeps across Canada.
Several universities are home to multiple projects that have received funding. Six projects are based out of the University of Alberta. McGill University, Université de Montréal, the University of British Columbia are hosting five successful projects. Simon Fraser University is home to four of these projects. View the full lists on the CFI website.
COVID cases on campus
Brock University updated its case counts on Friday. After initially reporting two cases on Thursday, the university later announced a total of five cases involving students in two townhouse households. The university added that the students had been moved into individual isolation units on campus and were being cared for by Brock’s student health staff in consultation with Niagara Public Health.
Over the weekend, McMaster University was informed by Mohawk University that two of its students taking classes at McMaster’s Institute of Applied Health Sciences facility tested positive for COVID-19. Local public health officials do not believe the cases are connected. The students were on campus on November 2 for classes.
The University of Waterloo reported a confirmed case on campus. The individual is self-isolating.
November 6, 2020
Delayed start of the winter term for some
A number of universities have announced that they will be delaying the start of the winter term, primarily to give everyone an extra break over the holidays during these stressful times. In a note to the Carleton University community, Carleton’s president Benoit-Antoine Bacon announced that “in order to provide everyone with a longer rest and a little more preparation time over the winter holidays,” the start of the winter term has been delayed a few days, to January 11. Similarly, Bishop’s University announced that it will be delaying the start of the winter semester by one week, to January 18, “to give students an extended break, to facilitate any required quarantining and to allow faculty and staff more time to prepare.” Neighbouring institution Université de Sherbrooke likewise is delaying the start of winter classes, from January 5 to January 11.
McGill plans to introduce more in-person activities for the winter term
McGill University will continue to offer courses primarily through remote delivery in the winter term, but plans to “implement enhanced in-person teaching activities where possible,” say Christopher Buddle and Fabrice Labeau, respectively McGill’s associate provost and deputy provost, in a November 4 update to the community. “We have heard from students that they are seeking connection to McGill, and we know many instructors and administrative and support staff are also missing opportunities to connect with students in-person.” The two say that they’ve also heard from students about how important it is to have study hubs and other flexible spaces to do group work, “so our planning is also prioritizing these activities.” What actually happens in winter 2021, they note, “will of course depend on the public health situation in Montreal next term.”
CMU temporarily suspends in-person classes
With Winnipeg’s pandemic alert moved to code red, which signifies considerable community transmission of COVID-19 throughout the city, Canadian Mennonite University has shifted all classes to online instruction for one week, from November 3 to November 10. Hybrid classes may be reintroduced as early as November 16, “provided there is a considerable decrease in the number of positive COVID-19 cases by next week,” the university noted. CMU had been one of the few universities in Canada offering a full slate of in-person classes this fall.
Campus COVID case updates
There have been around 100 cases of COVID-19 reported at Université Laval since the start of the fall session, according to an update provided by vice-rector René Lacroix at a university council meeting on November 4, according to TVA Nouvelles. About 20 employees and 86 students have tested positive, but most were teleworking or teaching at a distance, he said. A few cases were also identified in campus residences, but these students were quickly placed in isolation, Mr. Lacroix added.
The University of Manitoba reports seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 on its campuses between October 27 and November 3, for a total 29 cases this fall. The University of Windsor announced today that it was informed by the local public health unit that a second member of the campus community has tested positive for COVID-19. The confirmed case at a student residence is unrelated to a case reported on November 3, the university says. Brock University has reported two new confirmed cases who had been on campus recently. According to university protocols, “the areas of campus where they have visited are being cleaned and sanitized and appropriate contact tracing will be undertaken.”
November 4, 2020
Congress goes virtual for 2021
In what was perhaps not a surprise move, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences announced that next year’s Congress, scheduled to be held at the University of Alberta May 29 to June 4, will instead be held virtually. “Many things have changed since COVID-19 entered our lives, but one stubborn fact has remained the same: large, in-person gatherings are a public health risk. While we are all hoping for a breakthrough against the pandemic soon, public health officials are telling us it could be another year or more before we can safely go back to in-person meetings,” said Patrizia Albanese, chair of the board of directors of the Federation, in a statement explaining the decision. “Congress is unique in many ways, but like thousands of other events around the world, it must respond to the realities of this ongoing global health emergency. Congress must adapt, just as we all have had to do, at home, with our colleagues, and in the classroom.”
Traditionally, Congress brings together more than 8,000 academics, representing over 70 scholarly associations, to the host campus. The U of A’s Michael O’Driscoll and Al Chapman, respectively convenor and project manager for Congress 2021, said in a statement that planning for the event had been “a long journey for the local Congress team … six years in the making.” Nevertheless, they said that the switch presents the university with “an historic opportunity to stage Canada’s largest ever virtual, academic conference.” The Congress 2021 team, they said, “is ready to work with the Federation to help associations and their members adopt best practices for virtual conferencing, ensure accessibility and security for all participants, and encourage an innovative repertoire of programming that creates community, provides opportunities for networking, mitigates the physical strain of virtual engagement, and allows for virtual socializing.”
Congress 2020, which was scheduled to take place at Western University, was cancelled outright this year due to the pandemic. The Federation had discussed with organizers and participating scholarly associations the possibility of holding a virtual conference, but in the end they decided that “we need to turn our energy to other things right now,” said Federation executive director Gabriel Miller in a video statement on April 2.
The impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of the university population
According to a study underway at Université du Québec à Chicoutimi (UQAC) on the overall health of students and employees of Quebec universities, the pandemic is a significant source of stress for the university population. The first phase of the study involved an online questionnaire completed by 2,754 participants. The results of this first phase (in French only), published last week, reveal that 89 percent of respondents describe the situation as stressful and 60 percent report suffering from at least one of the following mental health problems: depression (47 percent), anxiety (45 percent), psychological distress (42 percent) and post-traumatic stress disorder (30 percent). The researchers say these problems are more prominent among students than employees. Parents interviewed (n = 410) said they found balancing work and family responsibilities difficult, particularly those with young children, and that this was having an impact on their family life.
UBC president speaks out on mental health
University of British Columbia president Santa Ono warned, during an online summit organized by Times Higher Education, that research is showing worryingly high proportions of students feeling depressed. “The next mental health crisis is already upon us” and universities must “act swiftly to protect our students,” said Dr. Ono, according a report. He added that “of course” the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly increased the problems that young people face.” Dr. Ono said he “spoke from lived experience,” having “tried to take my own life twice when I was young, first when I was only 14 years old. … It’s for that reason that [mental health] is a topic I talk about far and wide,” he continued.
Preliminary enrolment numbers, continued
In Monday’s update (Nov. 2), we reported on the preliminary enrolment numbers for universities in Atlantic Canada. Higher education strategist Ken Steele has included these in an updated spreadsheet of initial estimates of fall enrolment for all universities and colleges in the country, based on preliminary announcements from individual institutions, media releases, or media coverage of board and senate reports. His take so far: international enrolment is struggling, though not uniformly across institutions, while domestic enrolment is all over the map, decreasing at some institutions while increasing at others.
November 2, 2020
Preliminary enrolments in Atlantic Canada
There is much interest, and concern, about how the pandemic has affected enrolments this fall at Canada’s universities. So all eyes were on the Association of Atlantic Universities’ preliminary survey of enrolments for 2020-2021, the first comprehensive, region-wide set of numbers released in Canada. The survey found that full-time enrolment (undergraduate and graduate) declined by 1.3 percent year-over-year, while full-time international student enrolment declined 6.6 percent. The declines have not been evenly distributed, however. While some institutions have taken a hit, others are holding close to, or even exceeding, enrolment numbers from the same time last year.
“Not a surprise” is how AAU chair Allister Surette, recteur of Université Sainte-Anne, summarized the declines in domestic and international enrolments. “Once our universities were past the immediate response to the pandemic during the spring semester and began planning in most cases for delivery of online learning in the fall semester, some declines were expected,” he said.
The most concerning enrolment decline occurred among full-time first-year students, down 10.5 percent year-over-year. Mr. Surette explained that, “this will have a significant impact on enrolment and institutional sustainability over the next three to four years.” This was partially offset by a significant increase in part-time enrolment of 19.6 percent. “One could hypothesize that many first-year students opted to go part-time because of travel restrictions and uncertainty about their adaptability to virtual learning versus traditional in classroom learning,” said Mr. Surette.
As for international students, national and international travel restrictions, and the temporary closure of visa processing offices worldwide, seriously affected enrolment. The AAU praised the federal government’s decision on October 2 to ease travel restrictions on international students so they can begin returning to campus. (See the updates published on October 5 and October 7). “Our universities are establishing plans to welcome international students back to campus safely and are fully-equipped to place them in the required 14-day quarantine upon their arrival,” said Mr. Surette.
“Any enrolment decline is a concern, especially among first-year and international students. However, the results illustrate the strength and stability of the university sector in Atlantic Canada at a time when the pandemic has had a devastating effect on so many people and other sectors,” he concluded.
In his daily blog today, Alex Usher, principal of Higher Education Strategy Associates, called the AAU preliminary enrolment results “a mixed bag. It’s not good, but it’s not terrible. It’s behind last year, but well ahead of the worst-case scenarios.”
Winter update from StFX
In an October 28 email to University Affairs, St. Francis Xavier University shared details of its plans for the winter semester: the university anticipates that 77 percent of students will be in in-person classes, while 23 percent will be online. That is among the highest percentages of in-person classes of any university in Canada. (Approximately 64 percent of StFX students are enrolled in in-person classes this fall, while 36 percent are taking online courses.)
As with the fall term, provincial and federal public health requirements make it mandatory for students who are coming back from outside the “Atlantic bubble” to quarantine for 14 days upon returning. All classes will begin the week of January 13 in an online delivery format. Those courses identified as in-person will then transition from online delivery to in-person delivery beginning January 20.
Misrepresenting COVID-19 science may sow confusion and erode public trust
A new report released on October 30 by the Royal Society of Canada Task Force on COVID-19, Let’s Do Better: Public Representations of COVID-19 Science, warns that the relevant science on the pandemic is being presented to the public in a way that is causing confusion, inappropriate expectations and, ultimately, eroding public trust. The report looks at how researchers and media play a role in accurately disseminating findings and advances in COVID-19 research and calls on the community to do better. Recommendations from the task force include:
• more transparency about evidence, data and method;
• placing findings and conclusions in the context of the broader evidence base;
• correcting public misrepresentation of researcher’s work;
• taking greater care in how research that hasn’t been peer-reviewed is represented in the public domain.
CTV News reports that over 150 people attended a Halloween party at a residence near Western University on Friday evening, October 30. In and emailed statement sent to The Gazette student newspaper, Jennie Massey, associate vice-president of student experience, said: “Should we receive names of any Western students involved, we will review all cases under the Code of Student Conduct, follow up and apply sanctions as appropriate. … We know the majority of our students are doing their part to take care of themselves, each other and our community. But we are at the height of the second wave of this pandemic and we need everyone to commit to this shared responsibility and remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19.” Western students have been at the centre of three community outbreaks in the London, Ontario area, and at least 74 students have tested positive since classes began in September.
October 28, 2020
International students could be returning to N.S. in November
Postsecondary institutions in Nova Scotia will likely be welcoming international students back to their campuses as early as the first week of November. The Government of Nova Scotia shared the news in a press release on Wednesday. The province says it anticipates that schools in N.S. will be included in an update to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s list of “designated learning institutions” that is scheduled for November 3. Institutions on this list all have provincially approved COVID-19 safety plans in place for international students travelling to Canada. Students registered at these institutions are exempt from travel bans so long as they meet eligibility requirements.
IRCC first published its list of approved DLIs on October 20. At that time, no postsecondary institutions in N.S. were included. You can find the original list of approved universities in our update published on October 21. As of this writing, the last update on IRCC’s list was October 23. According to yesterday’s press release, the list is updated every two weeks.
83 international students fined for house party
Dozens of international students have been issued steep fines of $1,000 each after police shut down a large house party in the small town of Chelsea, Quebec, on Saturday. Police estimate that up to 200 people were found at the Airbnb rental near the Gatineau-Ottawa border where a birthday party was taking place. They issued 83 tickets to international students for contravening Quebec’s Public Health Act. A spokesperson for the local police unit noted that the students came from postsecondary institutions from across Quebec and Ontario, including schools in Montreal, Ottawa, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières.
Wildcat strikes at university and teaching hospitals in Alberta
Members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees walked off the job on Monday in protest against thousands of job cuts proposed by the Alberta government. The one-day wildcat strike involved general support health-care workers, licensed practical nurses and health-care aides at more than a dozen hospitals and health-care centres, including the University of Alberta Hospital and Foothills Hospital in Calgary. Earlier this month, these two hospitals, which are affiliated with the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary, respectively, were struggling with COVID-19 outbreaks among staff (see the update posted on October 16).
“Nursing-care and support workers decided today that there was no other option but to fight to protect Albertans at risk, especially during the deadliest pandemic in a century,” said AUPE president Guy Smith.
The Edmonton Journal reports that the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents 27,000 health-care professionals, and the United Nurses of Alberta had said in separate statements that their members wouldn’t do the work of other union members. The Alberta Federation of Labour and its affiliated unions said they would join picket lines to show support.
October 26, 2020
COVID on campus
Between October 16 and October 20, the University of Manitoba saw four new cases on campus. Three cases involve the Fort Garry campus and one was identified at the Bannatyne campus.
Thousands of medical residents affected by last-minute exam cancellation
Late last week, the Medical Council of Canada suddenly postponed a licensing exam that was scheduled to take place this past weekend. The MCC Qualifying Examination Part II is a general skills assessment required for Canadian physicians to obtain full medical licensure. The council decided to defer the exam after several testing sites, most of which are universities and hospitals, pulled out in consideration of public health advice.
“Regretfully, due to recommendations by Public Health and late-breaking decisions by some contracted third-party exam sites, primarily in university settings, we are no longer able to administer the MCCQE Part II to a large enough reference group cohort to ensure the exam results are defensible from a high-quality psychometric perspective. We are left with no choice but to cancel all sites for this session of the exam. We apologize for the disruption this has caused candidates,” the council wrote in a statement dated October 22.
The council had been under pressure to postpone the test “after at least seven people were potentially exposed to the virus [SARS-CoV-2] during an internal medicine specialty certification exam in Toronto,” CMAJ News reports. (That specialty exam was administered by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada on September 29-30.)
According to the Canadian Press, the postponement affects some 2,400 medical residents. The exam was already postponed in May, at which point many residents received provisional licences. The news agency notes that the next exam is scheduled for February 7, 2021, though the council is looking into alternative options.
Support staff at U of Ottawa worry pandemic will hinder strike efforts
Approximately 1,300 members of support staff at the University of Ottawa have been on strike since last Monday, but a spokesperson for the striking staff says the group is concerned about how the pandemic will affect their safety as well as the reach of their message.
“It’s extremely challenging,” Jonathan Degan, an active learning technologist at the university and vice-president of the local bargaining unit of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, told the CBC. The OSSTF represents the support staff, which ranges from mental health counsellors to lab technicians. “Visibility is a big challenge for us.”
October 23, 2020
Updates on future academic terms
A few universities issued updates about course delivery for upcoming academic terms this week:
In a letter to the community, MacEwan University president Annette Trimbee said that institution will continue offering a hybrid model for winter term “with the goal of carefully increasing our face-to-face delivery.” The university is aiming for 25 percent of its programming to have some face-to-face component.
Laurentian University was the first university in Canada to cancel on-campus classes back in March. Now, the university has decided to keep the emote-delivery course model into winter 2021. Less than one percent of the university’s courses will have an in-person option.
Not only has the University of Toronto Scarborough opted for online courses for the upcoming winter term, it has also decided to shift all in-person classes offered this fall to online platforms. The decision to cancel face-to-face activities came as much of the Greater Toronto Area returned to a modified Stage 2 pandemic response as required by the province.
Most classes and activities at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières will be online in winter 2021. The university is prioritizing synchronous online course delivery and will only approve in-person learning in exceptional circumstances.
Spring term at Vancouver Island University (which starts January 2021) will look much the same as the fall term with its hybrid learning model. “When safe to do so, we will create more opportunities for face-to-face learning and activities in 2021/22 – although I want to reassure you that requirements for face-to-face course components will not change mid-term to enable everyone time to plan,” writes VIU president Deb Saucier.
Some ways that service delivery is changing on campus
Since March, university libraries have had to find creative ways to offer services that would normally be delivered in person. Many services transitioned to digital platforms and in the summer, several libraries began offering curbside pickup for books (see the update published on June 17 for some examples). The University of Toronto libraries have recently expanded their curbside service to include a “scan and deliver” option for journal articles: “Users can request scanned copies of journal articles using the ‘Get Help’ button in catalogue records, the same process used to request materials through the Curbside Pickup Service. Links to scanned articles will be delivered to users via email.” Book chapters are excluded from this service.
And though dining services at most institutions are open for in-person dining and/or take out, several are also finding new ways to keep their work accessible during the pandemic. At McMaster University, executive chef Paul Hoag stars in McMaster Class, a series of six videos introducing viewers to kitchen basics and beyond. Meanwhile, hospitality services at the University of Guelph have started to offer Dinner 2 Go, a full dinner with dessert that can be pre-ordered and picked up at a set date and time. The university’s chefs have also periodically posted some of recipes.
October 21, 2020
Feds release list of institutions approved to welcome back international students
Yesterday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada posted a list of “designated learning institutions” with COVID-19 readiness plans that have been approved by their provincial or territorial governments. International students holding approved study permits who are enrolled at these institutions will be permitted to travel to Canada to pursue their studies despite travel bans in place at Canadian borders. If the school is not listed on the IRCC website, international students at these institutions are not currently exempt from the travel bans. (See more information about this decision in our update published on October 7.)
To be approved, the plans must clarify how the institution intends to “[protect] the health and safety of all students and the surrounding community,” “[describe] how they will manage the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for international students, including arrangements for transportation to the students’ quarantine location,” and “[provide] information and support to international students about how they can get the items they need for their quarantine, like food and medications; health insurance; and remaining healthy while in Canada.”
Universities that have been included on the list so far:
- Alberta University of the Arts
- Ambrose University
- Burman University
- Concordia University of Edmonton*
- MacEwan University*
- Mount Royal University *
- Mary’s University
- The King’s University *
- University of Alberta *
- University of Calgary *
- University of Lethbridge *
- Capilano University
- Emily Carr University of Art and Design *
- Kwantlen Polytechnic University *
- Royal Roads University *
- Simon Fraser University *
- Thompson Rivers University *
- Trinity Western University *
- University Canada West
- University of British Columbia *
- University of Northern British Columbia *
- University of Victoria *
- University of the Fraser Valley *
- Vancouver Island University *
- Yorkville University
- Booth University College
- Brandon University *
- University of Manitoba *
- University of Winnipeg *
- Crandall University
- Mount Allison University *
- Thomas University *
- Université de Moncton *
- University of New Brunswick *
Newfoundland and Labrador
- Memorial University *
- Algoma University *
- Brock University *
- Carleton University *
- Queen’s University *
- Trent University *
- University of Ottawa *
- University of Toronto *
- York University *
Prince Edward Island
- University of Prince Edward Island *
- All designated learning institutions (including all universities) in the province have been approved (even TELUQ, the province’s online university)
- University of Regina*
- Campion College
- First Nations University of Canada
- Luther College
- University of Saskatchewan*
- Thomas More College
- Yukon University
(*member of Universities Canada)
Note that no universities located in Nova Scotia have made the list at this time, which means international students at Dalhousie University, Saint Mary’s University, NSCAD University, Acadia University, Cape Breton University, Mount Saint Vincent University, St. Francis Xavier University, Université Sainte-Anne and University of King’s College are not yet permitted to return to campus.
Some other notable absences include U15 members McMaster University, Western University and the University of Waterloo as well as Manitoba’s only French-language university, Université de Saint-Boniface. Only eight universities in Ontario’s made the cut yesterday – Universities Canada counts 30 of its members in that province alone.
The full list of approved DLIs is available on the IRCC website.
COVID cases on campus
A case of COVID-19 was confirmed at McMaster University yesterday. The affected student had last been on campus on October 15 in the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery. This is McMaster’s seventh case, Global News reports.
Acadia students charged for non-compliance with COVID precautions
Even though Acadia University moved its homecoming celebrations online this year, eight students at the institution were charged for violating COVID-related safety measures during homecoming weekend. More than 20 people were charged or issued tickets, including eight under the Emergency Management and Health Protection acts, according to RCMP in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. The individual charged for failing to comply with the Health Protection Act was fined $1,000.
“We were thrilled to hear they were issuing tickets, because it helps us drive home the point that the protocols that were put in place by the health authority are serious and that we expect students to fulfill their obligation to remain vigilant and take measures to keep themselves and others safe,” Acadia spokesperson Ian Murray told The Chronicle-Herald.
October 19, 2020
Pandemic factors into contract dispute
In an interview with the CBC, Dalhousie Faculty Association president David Westwood said the shift to online learning has significantly increased instructors’ workloads, leading them “to the verge of burnout.” COVID-related workload issues were brought to the table during negotiations for a new collective agreement with university administration which started last summer and came to a standstill this fall – due to pension issues. Spokesperson Janet Bryson said that Dalhousie is considering “how to adequately recognize people’s work and contributions.”
The article notes that COVID-19’s impact on work duties will likely affect contract negotiations at several universities this academic year.
COVID cases on campus
Last week, the University of Waterloo was informed that two people associated with the institution had tested positive for COVID-19. One person was last on campus on October 1. The other is an “individual from our community,” but the university did not provide additional details.
Universities enlist quarantine reps and safety ambassadors
Several universities are looking for a few good student employees and volunteers to help spread the word about COVID-19 safety health measures.
York University is recruiting volunteers to help international students arriving after Canada re-opens its borders to this population tomorrow. The university notes that some 350 international students are moving into residence this term and anticipates an influx in the next few weeks. York will support these students through their two-week quarantine by paying for housing and meals during this period, and daily check-ins. This is where volunteer quarantine representatives come in: “These check-ins, which provide the students with a York contact and the sense that the university is concerned about their welfare, are done by a corps of volunteers, both staff and students, called QRs or quarantine representatives.”
The safety and risk-management departments at several B.C. universities are rounding up teams of safety ambassadors to patrol busy traffic areas to encourage community members to keep an appropriate distance and wear face masks, among other safety measures. The ambassadors are issued team t-shirts and other gear such as two-way radios to keep risk management apprised of what they’ve observed around campus. The University of Fraser Valley, Thompson Rivers University and Simon Fraser University (which issued vests rather than shirts) are just a few of the institutions making good use of these volunteer safety squads.
Something nice: Making a meal out of homecoming
Virtual homecoming has become a new staple at Canadian campuses this fall. Brandon University’s version gets a shout out for one mouth-watering detail that helps it stand out from the crowd: the Bobcat Appreciation Meal. Alumni can order their meals online for pick up or delivery in time to remotely break bread with fellow grads.
“Local alumni, Bobcat fans, and the entire community will be able to dig into a special blue-and-gold meal through Everyone Eats Brandon on Friday, which is increasing its capacity to 500 [for homecoming]. Meals include seasoned chicken drumsticks and a delicious assortment of vegetables. … Volunteers from the BU Alumni Association and the BU Bobcats women’s basketball team will be providing a limited number of deliveries.”
October 16, 2020
COVID cases on campus
The Wilfrid Laurier University community has now been linked to 15 cases of COVID-19. In Wednesday’s update, we mentioned that an outbreak had been declared on two floors of the Clara Conrad Hall student residence. Students on a third floor of the building are now required to self-isolate. A local health official told Global News that seven of the cases could be traced back to study groups held off campus. Three of the new cases have been confirmed in student residence halls – a case each in Waterloo College Hall, King’s Court and 260 Regina.
Five varsity football players have tested positive at the University of Ottawa. CTV News reports that the university has suspended the team’s training program because certain members of the team were no properly self-isolating. U of Ottawa’s “Cases on Campus” website reports six active cases “impacting our community,” but offers no additional details.
According to CTV News, a case has been traced to the First Nations University of Canada campus. The university temporarily closed the campus childcare facility for extensive cleaning as a result.
Carleton University says two COVID-positive people have visited the campus in the past two days. The Charlatan, a campus newspaper, reports that one case has been traced to a student living in Leeds residence.
A student employee at McMaster University has tested positive for the virus. The student was last on campus on October 2 in the Campus Services Building.
Two hospitals affiliated with universities in Alberta have reported that staff members have been infected with the virus. A “small but unknown number” of staff in the emergency department at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton have been affected. The local health authority says there is no increased risk to patients despite the positive cases at the site. Meanwhile, Foothills Medical Centre, which has connections to the University of Calgary, is dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19. According to the Calgary Herald, 46 patients have tested positive and of those, “11 died, 11 are active cases and 24 have recovered. A total of 38 health-care workers and five visitors have also tested positive.”
U of Calgary is also reporting new cases on campus. On October 15, the university updated its COVID dashboard to reflect three total active cases. Cases have been traced to Craigie Hall, Mathematical Sciences, the Taylor Institute for Teaching & Learning and Engineering A.
Winter term updates
- Université de Sherbrooke, will continue to “prioritize in-person learning” this winter. Rector Pierre Cossette notes that the school can’t offer all classes in person but will run as many as can be safely managed – about 60 percent of all courses. The university will continue to hold some classes at off-campus venues, however will shutter its outdoor classrooms due to the colder weather.
- Administrators at Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue have taken a different tack, and will maintain online course delivery through the winter term.
- With Winnipeg seeing one of the steepest inclines of COVID cases in the country, the University of Winnipeg has decided to continue “mostly remote delivery of courses with a small number of classes on campus.”
- The University of Calgary announced in September that it would maintain a blended learning model for winter. This month, it added that it will push to increase the number of students learning in person on campus to 30 percent this winter, up from 20 percent this fall.
- The University of Ottawa has cancelled all school-sanctioned international travel for students in winter 2021. The decision applies to internships, co-op, field research, among other activities.
This week also came with a spate of announcements about university athletics for the winter term. With cases on the rise across the country, various leagues have cancelled competitions for the rest of the school year:
- U Sports cancelled winter championships.
- Cancellations at Atlantic University Sport.
- Ontario University Athletics has cancelled sanctioned sports through to March 2021.
- The Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) has suspended “all activities of university sport programming until further notice” – until at least January 15, 2021.
- Canada West announced “no conference regular season, playoff, or championship events” through this school year for basketball, volleyball, hockey, wrestling, and some rugby. The league deferred decisions for championships in curling, track and field, and swimming.
October 14, 2020
New cases of COVID on campus
Western University is dealing with an outbreak in a student residence hall. The Middlesex-London Health Unit declared an outbreak in London Hall after four residents tested positive. Chris Alleyne, associate vice-president of housing and ancillary services, told Western News that the affected students have been moved out of the residence to isolate while recovering. “We are delivering them meals, and our staff are in regular contact to ensure students are well supported,” he said. The university has also relocated a few residents who had been in close contact with the COVID-positive students out of “an abundance of caution.” Global News notes that, overall, at least 70 cases in the region have been linked to Western students.
An outbreak has also been declared at a residence building at Wilfrid Laurier University. It’s not clear how many students have tested positive, but the university reports that the outbreak has been confined to two floors of Clara Conrad Hall. All residents of those floors have been required to isolate for two weeks.
The University of Guelph confirmed yesterday that a low-risk case had been confirmed on its campus.
On October 9, Algoma University issued a memo alerting the students, faculty and staff of a COVID case “tied to an individual associated with our Sault Ste. Marie campus.”
Students fined, charged for hosting house parties
An Acadia University student was served a hefty fine after RCMP broke up a house party in Wolfville, N.S., that had more than 75 people in attendance. By hosting the party, the student contravened the Emergency Management Act and will have to pay $697.50. Last week, police in Antigonish, N.S., charged several students from St. Francis Xavier University after they were called to several house parties. According to the CBC, three people were charged for failing to physically distance and a 23-year-old woman from Ontario was charged under the Health Protection Act for failing to self-isolate.
Student loan repayments restart as emergency benefit program winds down
September 30 marked the end of a six-month pause on national student loan repayments and interest charges. Several recent Laurentian University grads told CBC that they aren’t sure how they’ll manage repayments with few employment prospects available at the moment.
The federal government has made some changes to the Canada Student Loan program for the 2020-2021 school year, though they won’t help new grads facing repayment plans. The government has doubled the Canada Student Grants up to $6,000 for full-time students and up to $3,600 for part-time students; doubled the Canada Student Grants for Students with Permanent Disabilities and Students with Dependents; broadened eligibility for student financial assistance by removing the expected student’s and spouse’s contributions for the year; and raised the maximum weekly amount that can be provided to a student from $210 to $350.
September 30 was also the last day for students to apply to the Canada Emergency Student Benefit. As of September 24, the program had paid out $2.92 billion. According to iPolitics the program “undershot its budget by $2.33 billion, at most.” When CESB was announced in April, the government had said it earmarked $5.25 billion for the program. It received 2.1 million applications, with 700,000 students receiving support. The website reports that Nicole Brayiannis, national deputy chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, called the CESB and the cancellation of the Canada Student Service Grant “a letdown and a disappointment.”
October 9, 2020
Several cases of COVID-19 reported on campuses
For a second time this week, McMaster University is alerting the community to a case of COVID-19 on campus. On October 8, the university was notified that a student had tested positive for COVID-19. That student had visited the John Hodgins Engineering Building on campus two days prior to receiving the positive test result.
Trent University also posted on October 8 that one of its students had tested positive for COVID-19. The student had been on campus in Peterborough on September 29 and is now self-isolating. According to Peterborough Public Health, the individual was likely not on campus during the period of communicability.
According to Brock University, “a member of the Brock community” recently tested positive for COVID-19. The university did not publish additional information about the case.
The University of Waterloo reported its first case of COVID-19. On October 5, the university was informed by the local health authority that “one individual from our community” tested positive. That person is now self-isolating. On October 1, U of Waterloo launched a COVID-19 case tracker on its website.
Since October 3, the Wilfrid Laurier University has reported six new cases of COVID-19 within its campus community. Each of the cases involve off-campus students and were confirmed by the university on October 3, October 5 and October 7.
A member of the campus community at the University of Saskatchewan recently tested positive for COVID-19. The university noted that the individual is associated with the College of Medicine and “based on class schedule, the individual has not been on campus since October 1.”
Universities could lose up to $3.4 billion in revenue this year: StatCan
Yesterday, Statistics Canada released a financial forecast for the university sector for the 2020-2021 academic year. Depending on the scenario, the agency projects that universities will lose between $377 million to $3.4 billion this year. That is a decrease in revenue of 0.8 percent to 7.5 percent from the 2018-2019 school year. The five scenarios presented look at the impact of reduced international student enrolment, both higher- and lower-than-usual domestic student enrolment numbers, and a loss of revenue from ancillary services.
More universities announce winter plans
The plans for winter 2021 keep rolling out. Here are the latest announcements:
- Mount Royal University “will continue delivering most classes online during the winter 2021 semester, similar to the fall 2020 semester. On-campus and off-campus exceptions will be considered for those courses requiring in-person learning components.”
- Winter term at the University of Saskatchewan “will be primarily remote online learning with extremely limited in-person instruction.” Registration for classes is underway.
- Brandon University will extend remote course delivery into the winter term. This approach, the university says, “provides certainty for faculty, staff and for students, and once again ensures that there will be no mid-term disruption from rising infection rates.”
- OCAD U president Ana Serrano announced that the art institution will largely retain the online learning model it’s used throughout the fall term. However, the university will also “pilot a small number of optional studio courses that will combine online learning with in-person instruction, and we are working on opening more facilities for service delivery and independent work.” Administration will provide additional details on these in-person opportunities next week.
- Western University, which has seen a high number of COVID-19 cases among its student population, will “continue with the mixed model for the winter term.” President Alan Shepard wrote in an update that he expects Winter 2021 will “look like the current semester, with approximately 25 percent of undergraduate and graduate courses taught in person or with an on-campus component, like a lab or studio.”
- The University of New Brunswick will keep a blended learning model for the next term.
- Thomas University will maintain the remote learning model it introduced this fall. President Dawn Russell noted that the decision to keep status quo factored in ongoing border restrictions, self-isolation requirements and physical distancing measures. In a message to the public, she wrote: “While we have a much better understanding of risks and how to mitigate them, there are still many barriers to a resumption of in-person classes and campus life. While the circumstances have improved in our province and region, we do not want to contribute to a setback. There are also factors specific to the second term and complications arising from the upcoming cold/flu season including testing, self-monitoring, and self-isolation.” She also noted that information about convocation, athletics and other student activities will be forthcoming.
- Cape Breton University won’t resume in-person classes before May 3. It will continue remote course delivery throughout the winter. “There will be a limited number of exceptions in cases where in-person delivery is essential. Students will continue to be supported in a virtual environment or in-person by appointment only,” CBU clarified.
- Mount Saint Vincent University has decided that winter term will proceed largely online. The university notes that a few labs will run live on campus, and that administration and faculty will explore opportunities for “multi-access delivery of a limited number of courses – meaning some winter semester courses may be delivered simultaneously online and on-campus.”
- Acadia University will continue with a blended learning model, but it emphasized a commitment to on-campus learning opportunities. “Acadia University will stay the course and welcome students back to campus for a COVID-19-ready Winter 2021 term with a hybrid approach to teaching and learning,” the announcement reads. The blended model includes face-to-face on-campus, virtual and dual format courses.
And, it’s not quite winter term news, but an update on fall at one institution:
Some 300 students at the Royal Military College in Kingston will transition to an online learning model after the Thanksgiving long weekend, CTV News reports. Roughly 800 cadets had already been taking courses remotely this fall.
October 7, 2020
Universities pleased with new measures affecting international students
Universities are reacting positively to the news that the federal government is relaxing travel restrictions for international students (see the October 5 update below). “Canada’s universities are very pleased that the Government of Canada has amended travel restrictions to allow international students to begin safely entering the country,” Cindy McIntyre, assistant director, international relations at Universities Canada, told The PIE News (Universities Canada is the publisher of University Affairs). “This is a testament to the critical importance of international students to Canadian communities, and a recognition of the rigorous and comprehensive plans that universities across the country have put in place.”
“This is great news,” tweeted University of British Columbia president Santa Ono. “I’m grateful to the federal and provincial governments and members of the UBC community for working together to support the safe entry of international students to Canada.”
“It’s a really important step forward. It has taken a lot of work,” added Universities Canada president Paul Davidson, speaking to the Globe and Mail. “International students have been able to enrol online this fall, but their stickiness – how committed they would be to Canada – was a bit of a question if there was no prospect of the border opening. This is a real boost that distinguishes Canada.”
According to the new measures, as of October 20, international students with valid study permits will be permitted to enter the country provided their institution has a COVID-19 readiness plan that has been approved by the appropriate provincial or territorial government. These plans must include provisions for how universities will quarantine students for the mandatory 14-day period upon arrival, including details on transport, meals, periodic check-ins, and the administration of at least one COVID-19 test. A list of “designated learning institutions” with approved plans will be posted to the Immigration website “before or on” October 20. According to the Globe and Mail, in Ontario, seven institutions have had their plans approved as of October 2, and a number of others are under review.
New restrictions for students in Quebec’s red zones
With COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in the province, Quebec higher education minister Danielle McCann announced on Monday that all classes for students in universities and CEGEPs (Quebec’s junior colleges) will be held online as much as possible in the province’s designated red zones. “Everything that can be done from a distance will be done by distance,” Mr. McCann said, with exceptions such as for laboratory research that can’t be done remotely. Montreal, Quebec City and the region just south of the capital, Chaudière-Appalaches, are the main areas currently in a maximum red alert level. The new rules take effect tomorrow, October 8.
Co-op placements will continue, the minister added, and libraries will remain open for the pick-up of materials. Student residences also remain open. Students living away from home should note that the government has additionally urged all Quebecers to avoid inter-regional and interprovincial travel during this coming Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
COVID-19 outbreak in McGill residences
McGill University is reporting that five students who live in student housing have tested positive for COVID-19, four since last Friday. According to the McGill Reporter, the most likely cause of transmission is students visiting each other’s rooms. As a result, in the two buildings affected, students have been told that they are not allowed visitors until further notice.
“The people who tested positive are now in isolation. We are providing meals delivered to the door, and Residence Life staff are in contact with them to offer support,” says the report. “We know that this situation is extremely isolating for students and we hope to reverse it as soon as we can, once we receive direction from public health.”
October 5, 2020
Feds relax travel restrictions for international students
Canadian universities might soon see more international students in their local communities. The Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has amended border restrictions on international travellers. As of October 20, international students will be permitted to enter the country provided their school’s COVID-19 readiness plan has been approved by the appropriate provincial or territorial government. A list of “designated learning institutions” with approved plans will be posted to the Immigration website “before or on” October 20. The change applies to students travelling from any country outside of Canada.
The ministry’s website notes that these institutional readiness plans should include “specifics to their provincial or territorial government on how they will provide information to international students on health and travel requirements before they arrive in Canada, help students with their quarantine plans and provide guidance or assistance in acquiring the necessities of life, such as food and medication, during their quarantine. Readiness plans also need to establish protocols for the health of students in the event there are suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases at the school.”
The update also specifies that immediate family members may be allowed to accompany an international student “if their reason for travel is non-optional or non-discretionary, such as getting established in Canada in support of the principal applicant’s study program. This could include a spouse or common-law partner, a dependent, or in the case of a minor child who will be studying in Canada, a parent or legal guardian.”
Once in Canada, international students (and their family members) will be required to quarantine for 14 days. According to The Globe and Mail, federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the government will beef up public health staffing at 36 ports of entry as well as regularly share information with provinces and territories to improve enforcement of the mandatory quarantine order.
New case reported at U of Guelph, McMaster
The University of Guelph has confirmed a new case of COVID-19 associated with the institution. The university updated its “Cases on Campus” page last Thursday. According to the website, a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 visited the Guelph campus at some point in a two-week period ending October 1. The university considers the risk of transmission “low” but did not offer additional information.
Yesterday, McMaster University confirmed a case of COVID-19 involving an employee. The employee was last on campus on September 29 and in the Life Sciences Building, which has been thoroughly cleaned.
COVID-19 Immunity Task Force focuses in on older Canadians
The COVID-19 Immunity Task Force has set its sights on better understanding the disease’s prevalence among older people in Canada. The new $4-million research initiative targeting this high-risk demographic will be carried out in collaboration with the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, a national platform based out of McMaster University that involves tens of thousands of Canadians aged 45 to 85. (Find out more about CLSA from this news story we published in 2017 when the project first launched.)
Researchers working on the CLSA COVID-19 Seroprevalence Study will collect and test blood samples from more than 19,000 CLSA participants in 10 provinces. Participants will fill out a questionnaire about COVID-19 symptoms, risk factors, experiences with the health care system, and how the pandemic has affected various aspects of their lives.
“Our best means of ascertaining how close we are to containing the pandemic is to track the presence of antibodies in the population,” Christina Wolfson, co-principal investigator of the CLSA, told McGill News. “The devastating effects of COVID-19 at all ages with higher levels of mortality at older ages make it imperative that we give particular attention to the evolution of the antibody profiles of older adults which will, very likely, be different from those of the younger population. The CLSA and the CLSA participants are in a unique position to contribute to a better understanding of the distribution of these antibodies in the older adult population in Canada.”
The federal government launched the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force in April 2020 to track the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory illness in Canada. It’s co-led by David Naylor, a professor of medicine emeritus and former president of the University of Toronto, and Catherine Hankins, a professor of public and population health at McGill University. In July, the task force found that SARS-CoV-2 antibodies were present in less than 1 percent of blood samples provided by Canada Blood Services, which suggested to researchers at the time that less than one percent of these donors were infected with the coronavirus at some point (see update published on July 27).
U of Guelph gets in on wastewater monitoring
Last week we told you about McMaster University’s efforts to track and predict COVID-19 outbreaks at the institution by monitoring raw sewage at several sites on campus (see the update posted on September 30). Researchers in food science, engineering, pathobiology and population medicine have teamed up to run a similar experiment at the University of Guelph. The team is now collecting wastewater samples from campus residences.
Engineering professor Ed McBean says that a wastewater sample that has been collected over the course of a day can offer “reliable evidence of the amount of virus coming from a specific area where wastewater facilities are shared by a group of students.” Taken over a period of a week, those daily samples can point to whether or not COVID-19 case numbers will climb.
October 2, 2020
More universities confirm winter term plans
The list of Canadian universities that have confirmed winter plans continues to grow. With Canada at the start of a second wave, it’s little surprise that most institutions will maintain online courses for most programs. Here are the universities we’ve heard from this week:
- Kwantlen Polytechnic University says it will “continue with additional on-campus instructional activities that are essential to the completion of courses and programs, combined with remote delivery of programs and services to students” in January. This fall, more than 70 classes (out of 1,900 total classes offered at KPU) offered some form of in-person learning experience.
- Trent University will “increase the number of in-person courses for the coming winter 2021 term, offering a mix of in-person, online and remote options in our multi-access approach. … Students should be reassured that many courses offered in person will also be made available with options for remote or online learning.”
- The University of Prince Edward Island, in the Atlantic Bubble, announced a blended delivery model for winter 2021.
- Algoma University is planning for the return of “some” in-person classes in January. The Timmins Press doesn’t have an exact number, but Algoma said it would limit access to 25 to 30 percent of a room’s normal capacity.
- With Montreal and Ottawa seeing a drastic increase in COVID-19 cases, universities in these areas – including l’Université de Montréal, Concordia University, l’Université du Québec en Outaouais and McGill University – are keeping online learning as the status quo into the winter term. Carleton University noted that “the winter semester [will] proceed online, with some leeway for selected optional instruction on campus (e.g. specific labs, capstone projects, recitals) if circumstances allow.”
- At Memorial University, students will continue to take courses “in a primarily remote teaching and learning environment for the winter 2021 semester.”
- The University of Manitoba will also run online courses, with just a few in-person opportunities available to students.
COVID-19 case counts on campus: an update
The University of Alberta says an outbreak at St. Joseph’s College residence has been contained. The five students who had tested positive for COVID-19 last month are no longer considered active cases. Following the positive test results, all 22 residents of the hall had been put under quarantine. In a post to its website, the university said that “all 22 members of St. Joseph’s College Men’s residence, including the five individuals who tested positive, are now fully recovered and/or have completed their required self-isolation periods. There were no additional cases associated with the outbreak.”
An additional student at Wilfrid Laurier University has tested positive for COVID-19. The total has now reached 5. The latest case involves a student living off campus.
At least five new cases in Kingston are linked to a house party that took place on September 18 in a neighbourhood near Queen’s University. An estimated 40 to 50 people attended the party. The local health authority is advising everyone who attended a house party to self-isolate and get tested for COVID-19. The university put out a press release on September 28 acknowledging that some 13 cases have now been linked to the institution.
McMaster University confirms that a student has contracted the novel coronavirus. The latest case brings the total to three. The student was last on campus on September 24. “When the university is notified that someone is awaiting test results and has been on campus, the areas where the person had been on campus in the past 72 hours are cleaned out of an abundance of caution. In the majority of cases the test results have been negative,” the university said in a notice on its website.
The University of Calgary has alerted the campus community that an elevator contractor working on site from September 25 to 30 has contracted COVID-19. “At this time the likelihood of contacts between the affected individual and University of Calgary students, faculty, staff or contractors is considered low.”
A student at the University of Ottawa told the CBC that she tested positive for COVID-19 a week ago and had yet to hear from public health for contact tracing. In an interview with Ottawa Morning, Kate Brown, a second-year health sciences student, said that she’d taken it upon herself to notify close contacts and businesses she’d visited.
Green bracelet program at St. FX a ‘resounding success’
At the start of the fall term, St. Francis Xavier University began requiring campus visitors to wear green wristbands in order to gain access to campus buildings. The green bracelets signaled that a person coming from outside the Atlantic Bubble had finished their self-isolation period. For students, it also meant that they’d agreed to follow the university’s student community protocols, had signed a waiver and completed a COVID-19 screening questionnaire. The “green bracelet” program came to an end on October 1. In a tweet, St. FX called it a “resounding success with nearly 100 percent compliance!”
Today, October 1 marks the day we can remove our green bracelets. The program was a resounding success with nearly 100% compliance! Let’s keep up the good work! Pictured: StFX Student Union President Sarah Elliott removes StFX President Dr. Andy Hakin’s green bracelet. pic.twitter.com/fiV4NvlzLS
— StFX University (@stfxuniversity) October 1, 2020
Enrolment drops at Algoma U
In September, several universities reported early enrolment figures. Overall, registration seems to have remained stable across the country despite the challenges posed by COVID-19. (See the update published on September 11.) Now, however, at least one university is reporting that the pandemic has hurt its student numbers quite significantly.
According to The Sault Star, Algoma University’s enrolment is 15 percent less than the institution had projected back in March. “The postsecondary institution aimed for 924 full-time-equivalent students at its campuses in Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins and Brampton. Instead, there’s 784 FTEs. That number is also about 8 percent less than the 848 FTEs who studied at Algoma last fall, but above Algoma’s strategic enrolment management team’s revised goal of 687 FTEs for autumn 2020.”