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COVID-19: updates for Canada’s universities

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

BY UA/AU | SEP 28 2020

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

September 28, 2020

Update on case counts

From Friday to Sunday, the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) reported 31 new cases of COVID-19 in the region. Of those, 22 cases involve Western University students. Chris Mackie, MLHU’s medical officer of health, said that some 60 cases in total had been tied to Western students as of Friday. A Global News report notes that at least 23 of those cases can be tied to a large house party on the weekend of September 12.

Four students at Queen’s University have tested positive for COVID-19. The university and the local health authority confirmed on Friday that three students live off campus and are self-isolating at home. One student lives in residence on campus and is also self-isolating.

As of last Tuesday, McGill University was reporting six cases of COVID-19 on campus. (The university updates its case count every Tuesday.) Students, however, say that the official count doesn’t accurately reflect how the virus is affecting the university community since it doesn’t take into account cases contracted off campus. Thom Haghighat, a McGill student, told the CBC that he “knows of at least 25 students living in the area who tested positive, with a dozen in his immediate group of friends.” Jacob Rothery, also a McGill student living in Montreal, recently tested positive for COVID-19 as did three of his roommates. He claims to know of at least 20 other student cases.

Alberta universities seek delay on performance-based funding

Universities in Alberta are hoping the provincial government will rethink plans to roll out a new performance-based funding model in 2021-22. The government has already delayed the roll out by a year, but institutions are saying that their pandemic-related challenges won’t be over by then.

“We’re dealing with a massive restructuring, we’re dealing with a sector review, and we’re dealing with COVID,” University of Alberta president Bill Flanagan told the Globe and Mail in an interview. “There is a lot on the go, so I think a pause on that might be appropriate, just given the scale of all of the challenges facing both the postsecondary sector and the province.”

The new plan would tie 15 percent of provincial funding to yet-to-be-determined performance indicators. By the third year of the roll out, that would increase to 40 percent of funding.

Despite concerns by the province’s senior university leaders, Alberta’s Advanced Education Minister, Demetrios Nicolaides, said an additional delay isn’t in the plans, and that the economic challenges brought on by the pandemic make the new model a high priority. He did acknowledge that the program would have to be adapted.

“The starting point may be quite different post-pandemic than pre-pandemic,” he said. “We don’t want to take metrics and scores on employability, research activity or whatever it is pre-pandemic and then apply those to institutions moving forward.”

September 25, 2020

COVID-19 cases at Queen’s, USherbrooke

The Kingston Whig Standard reports that a case of COVID-19 was confirmed at Queen’s University on Thursday. The case involves a woman under 20 living in residence on campus.

This week, Université de Sherbrooke launched a site listing the number of COVID-19 cases reported on its three campuses since the first day of the fall term. There are currently 36 active cases on campus. Another 21 cases are categorized as resolved. Out of the 57 total cases on campus since the first week of September, 21 involved individuals in the faculty of education. The next hardest hit are the faculties of humanities and business, with nine cases each. Radio-Canada reports that several education students contracted the disease as part of an outbreak tied to a local microbrewery. U de Sherbrooke is one of the few institutions in Canada that has committed to a largely in-person fall term.

Universities confirm winter plans

Over the past few weeks, universities have started to confirm their plans for the winter term. Most have opted to continue with online courses for the majority of their programs. Here’s what some universities are planning so far:

  • The University of Regina will continue with primarily online courses for its winter term. “The winter 2021 term will look much like the fall term. Courses will primarily be delivered remotely with the exception of a limited number of low-density face-to-face classes, labs, studios and clinical placements.”
  • The University of Calgary will continue with a blended-learning model. “For the winter term, academic units will be planning their face-to-face course components within a 30-student maximum cap as a guideline, with some possible exceptions.”
  • The University of Alberta will offer a combination of in-person, remote and online instruction. “For winter 2021, we will continue to prioritize in-person learning where it is essential for program completion or progression; and, we will explore all opportunities to increase our current roster of in-person course offerings on our campuses to maximize student learning (lectures, graduate research, practicums, experiential placements, etc.) up to 30 percent within public health guidelines.”
  • Queen’s University announced “most courses will continue to be delivered remotely in the 2021 winter t A small number of on-campus academic activities will be held based on the need for some students to access specialized facilities, such as labs or clinical settings, and to ensure all students can meet the academic requirements of their programs.”
  • York University will maintain its online and remote course delivery for winter. York says it is “preserving flexibility” where small studio, lab and graduate classes are concerned.
  • McMaster University will extend “this fall’s online delivery of academic programs into the winter term.”
  • Brock University said it “will continue with primarily online classes for the full academic year.”
  • At the University of Windsor, “most courses will be online during the winter 2021 term.”
  • Leadership at Wilfrid Laurier University has “decided that the majority of the winter 2021 term will continue to be offered in a remote and online format, with select in-person courses.”
  • Courses at Ryerson University will be “largely online.”
  • The University of British Columbia will preserve online learning, but will offer some in-person learning for “programs in the health field such as medicine, nursing, dentistry and occupational therapy, the theatre and film program and the school of music.”
  • Online courses will continue at the University of Ottawa.
  • And same goes for the University of Waterloo.

September 23, 2020

COVID-19 cases at U of Guelph, Carleton and Western

The CBC reports that a student attending the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown campus has tested positive for COVID-19. According to the university’s cases on campus website, public health has also recently notified the institution about a separate case involving an individual at the main campus in Guelph.

Meanwhile, Carleton University says a total of five people who visited campus within the last 14 days have tested positive for COVID-19. The Charlatan, Carleton’s student newspaper, reports that the university confirmed on September 22 that two of these cases involved students living on campus. On September 12, the university announced its first case involving a student in on-campus housing (see the update published on September 14).

Another student at Western University has tested positive for COVID-19 this week. According to the Western Gazette, eight new COVID-19 cases confirmed in London since Saturday, September 19, have been linked to an outbreak within the Western student community. Seven of those cases involve a Western student. The local health authority said this reflected a downturn in cases among the student population. The health unit is not including two “high-risk probable cases” in its case count, however. These two cases involve Western students who have declined testing but were close contacts to a person who tested positive for the virus.

Western study examines impact of returning students on COVID-19 case count

At least a few people at Western saw this rise in COVID-19 cases coming. Lauren Cipriano, an associate professor at Western’s Ivey Business School, led an investigation into what impact students could have on infection rates in mid-size cities. Using London, Ontario, as her model, Dr. Cipriano and her team found returning students could nearly double the number of COVID-19 cases in the city within a semester. The researchers also suggested that aggressive and targeted testing strategies could help to stem such increases: their model found that testing students every 14 days could bring down the number of infections introduced by students by 22 percent.

SSHRC names winners of Partnership Engage Grants COVID-19 Special Initiative

On Monday, the federal government announced investments of more than $4 million for projects funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Partnership Engage Grants. The government says the new funding will support 172 projects and nearly 600 researchers who are collaborating with Canadian businesses and community organizations. The grants are intended to “provide short-term and timely support for partnered research activities that will inform decision-making in the public, private or not-for-profit sector.”

Approximately $3 million of that funding is earmarked specifically for projects in the Partnership Engage Grants COVID-19 Special Initiative, a competition for research that addresses the current health crisis. When the call was put out for the special initiative earlier this year, SSHRC explained that it was hoping to fill significant research gaps: “While much needed focus to date has been on developing and testing effective countermeasures to control the spread of the virus, examining the longer-term impacts of the pandemic – and the ensuing economic slowdown – on individuals, businesses and communities is just as important.” Some of the funded projects will look at disaster preparedness in the homeless population, how the pandemic has affected postsecondary students with disabilities, the health and safety of migrant workers, and stress-reduction among K-12 teachers.

SSHRC has published a full list of successful applicants to the special initiative funding on its website.

Survey finds international students from China ‘deeply concerned’ about postsecondary life in Canada

Easy Group, a Toronto-based tutoring company for international students, has released the results of a survey of 389 Chinese international students who had either enrolled or intended to enroll at a Canadian university this fall. They represented 12 different Canadian institutions, with the largest number coming from the University of Toronto’s three campuses, followed by the University of British Columbia, McMaster University and McGill University; most respondents were in STEM or business programs. In a summary of their findings, the company reported that “over half of the survey respondents won’t travel to Canada this year,” despite being enrolled; nearly 70 percent “dislike the prospect of online learning” and 90 percent “believe universities should lower their tuition fees.”

The results also suggest that students are concerned about the quality of their educational experience this year. “Online learning can pose significant difficulties and anxieties, especially among those who speak English as a second language. The opportunities for comprehensive immersion in a foreign language and culture are a significant part of the appeal of studying in a foreign country, and these advantages may be diminished, or even altogether lost, on a virtual campus,” Easy Group explains. Not only did survey respondents express concern for their mental health and well-being during this school year, they are also worried about COVID-19 as well as a perceived rise in anti-Chinese sentiment.

The full survey results are available online.

September 21, 2020

COVID-19 cases at Laurier and UTM, outbreak at U of A residence

The University of Alberta has confirmed an outbreak of COVID-19 in its St. Joseph’s College residence. Five residents of the men’s hall have tested positive for the illness. The hall’s remaining 14 residents will be self-isolating for 14 days. According to U of A, the cases involve university athletes and so “to best protect the health and safety of our community,” all in-person varsity sports will be cancelled for 14 days. Classes, labs and research activities will continue as planned on North Campus, where the residence building is located. St. Joseph’s College is also home to a women’s dorm.

Four students at Wilfrid Laurier University have tested positive for COVID-19. The university reports that the students live off campus and are in quarantine.

On Friday, the student union at the University of Toronto Mississauga shut down some on-campus services and facilities for 14 days after learning that two people who tested positive for COVID-19 had visited the student centre. The university says that the student centre will be cleaned and disinfected before it reopens. UTM operations and facilities aren’t affected by the student union shut down and confirms that “there is no elevated risk to any other members of the UTM or broader university community.”

Maclean’s magazine asks, “will universities survive COVID-19?”

Cape Breton University, which has a huge international student population, has lost $16.6 million in revenue, says university president David Dingwell. He points to a significant drop in student enrolment this fall as the main culprit. To mitigate the impact, CBU has cut work-related travel, cut 60 term positions and implemented a wage roll back. The university has also tapped out its $6.2-million reserve fund.

The situation at CBU is playing out at universities across the country – major revenue losses even as institution’s pump money into their COVID-19 responses and operating costs grow. Speaking to Maclean’s, McGill University provost Christopher Manfredi compares it to “a heart attack versus chronic high blood pressure. The heart attack requires instantaneous intervention to prevent the damage, but high blood pressure requires constant monitoring. We’re in the chronic high blood pressure stage of this.”

Dr. Manfredi is speaking of various governmental cuts and rollbacks that have put Canadian universities into a precarious financial situation even before the pandemic hit. The article goes on to list some of those cuts and their effects – chief among them, a reliance on international students and their tuition fees – before outlining some of the ways that governments have tried to fill the financial gap during the pandemic.

“Across the country, government support to universities in the wake of the pandemic has been uneven. Quebec agreed to provide grants equivalent to 2018-19 enrolment numbers … ‘That’s really taken the pressure off,’ says [Dr.] Manfredi. The Ontario government provided $25 million to 45 colleges and universities ‘to help each institution address their most pressing needs,’ and delayed the introduction of performance-based funding for two years; Alberta delayed a similar initiative by one year. Manitoba halted previously planned cuts and announced a $25.6-million fund that schools can access provided they show how they will meet labour market demands, deal with uncertain enrolment and deliver online learning. The Nova Scotia government has provided schools with their full operating grant upfront this year instead of in monthly instalments, and will go forward with a planned one percent increase in funding. B.C. provided emergency funds for students when the pandemic hit, but did not offer any support to schools. And Ottawa instituted the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, which provided between $1,200 and $1,750 per month to students who were unable to work full-time over the summer and weren’t eligible for other income support.”

Tuition fees up for 2020-21: StatCan

One possible stopgap for a loss of government funding (and revenue, to some extent) is higher tuition fees. And according to new data from Statistics Canada, it’s a tool that several universities are making use of. In an analysis published today, the agency states that “tuition fees for degree programs increased for both undergraduate and graduate students for the 2020-2021 academic year. While the fall 2020 term will see postsecondary institutions continue to offer online instruction in response to the pandemic, students will pay higher tuition fees on average compared with the previous academic year.”

Statistics Canada found that students in full-time undergraduate programs will pay an average of $6,610 in tuition, which is an increase of 1.8 percent over the 2019-2020 school year. Graduate programs rose by 1.6 percent to an average of $7,304. The average tuition fees for international undergraduate students went up by 7.1 percent to $32,041. (The agency notes, however, that prior to the pandemic, international students faced a similar increase of 7.6 percent for the 2019-2020 academic year.)

The analysis found undergrad tuition remained relatively stable in Ontario, while Alberta faced the steepest increase, at 7.1 percent. (In response to the finding that tuition had gone up on average more than 5 percent in Saskatchewan, the University of Regina emailed a statement to media this morning reiterating that it would not be increasing tuition for the current school year.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the highest undergrad tuition rates were found in professional programs such as dentistry and medicine, while MBAs charge the highest fees among graduate programs.

Head of federal Public Health steps down, employees demand vacancy be filled by scientists

Last week, the head of the Public Health Agency of Canada, Tina Namiesniowski, resigned. She stepped down amidst two federal investigations into the department’s handling of the country’s pandemic monitoring system as well as questions about a national shortage of personal protective equipment as Canada seemingly enters a second wave of the COVID-19 crisis.

The resignation of PHAC’s president came just a week after PHAC vice-president, Sally Thornton, retired from the organization. Ms. Namiesniowski came to the role at PHAC from the Border Services Agency, with a background in political science and a long career in public service. Ms. Thornton’s had studied law and previously worked at the Treasury Board and Privy Council. Now, current and former PHAC employees are telling the Globe and Mail that these top jobs should go to leaders with experience in the sciences, if not specifically in public health.

“Several Public Health employees, who can’t be named owing to fears they could face reprisals, have told The Globe that they often struggled to communicate urgent and complex messages up the chain of command inside Public Health. Because senior officials within the department lacked an understanding of the science, key messages often had to be ‘dumbed down’ one scientist told The Globe this summer.”

What does the future hold for Mona Nemer?

In other federal appointment news, Mona Nemer’s three-year term as Canada’s Chief Science Advisor comes to an end on Thursday, September 24. The government has yet to give any indication as to what the future holds for the role, which was restored in 2017 after nearly a decade-long hiatus. In an email to University Affairs, a spokesperson for the Privy Council Office said that information about the posting will be made available in due course. (The Privy Council provided the same answer to the National Observer, which reported on the uncertainty surrounding the end of the appointment earlier this month.)

Since the pandemic was declared, Dr. Nemer has played a role in the federal government’s response by helping to found and oversee the CanCOVID research network, participating in the federal COVID-19 Immunity Task Force and advising parliamentarians on the situation.

Noting that science-based decision-making is paramount to the nation’s pandemic response, Evidence for Democracy has penned an open letter asking the federal government to enshrine the Chief Science Advisor role in legislation. The group is also asking that the role’s mandate be updated to reflect a rapidly changing scientific landscape and that this expansion of responsibility come with a funding increase of $2 million (the Observer piece notes that this would effectively double the office’s budget). The letter garnered more than 2,000 signatures, but hasn’t received a response from the government.

Higher-ed program for inmates on hiatus

Walls to Bridges, a program that brings postsecondary instructors into correctional facilities to teach courses for inmates, has been on hiatus since the pandemic was declared in March. Officials at Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario – the first facility to welcome Walls to Bridges when the program was founded in 2011 – have looked into running the program through video conferencing instead of the program’s usual learning circles, but “Walls to Bridges relies on having students from the outside and inside together in one space without barriers,” said the institution’s director of education. In the meantime, the women who would normally attend classes have been participating in literature exchanges and correspondence in the hopes of starting up again in the spring of 2021.

Septembe18, 2020 

Outbreak at Western grows to 28 cases 

Western University says a total of 28 students have now tested positive for COVID-19. That’s a steep rise in casesince Monday, when 5 students were reported to have tested positive. (See our update published on September 14.) All but one of these students live off campus. The student in campus housing is self-isolating in residenceShortly after noon on Thursday, Western president Alan Shepard announced that the university has cancelled “non-academic activities” on campus, such as athletics, in response to this spike. On-campus courses will continue as planned. An estimated 25 percent of Western classes are taking place face-to-face. 

That same day, thpresident released direct appeal to students to follow common COVID-19 safety measures (don’t attend house parties, wear a mask inside and outside, stay home if you’re sick, etc.) or risk jeopardizing the hybrid course-delivery model. He also listed several potential side effects of COVID-19 in young people: “[T]wo of our key student health leaders – Dr. Sidney Siu and Dr. Sonya Malone – have told me how this virus can have significant medical consequences, even for young, healthy adults. Permanent lung injury, neurological damage such as long-term cognitive impairment or stroke, and cardiac disease such as heart failure. These can happen to young people as a result of COVID-19.” 

The London Free Press has been closely following the outbreak. One story details the events that helped the virus spread, including clubbing, working out at a gym together, playing basketball in a group, attending a house party, sharing drinks, e-cigarettes and rides. The story is based on a visualization of the outbreak prepared by the Middlesex London Health Unit. 


On Thursday, Free Press reporters gathered reactions to the outbreak from students on campusMore than one student said the spread of COVID-19 their demographic was “inevitable” with the return of students to the campus town. “Coming here, I knew it was a risk to be taken. I knew there would be people getting COVID and spreading it. It’s kind of inevitable at this point.” 

Ken Steele also published a timeline of the outbreak in today’s Eduvation Insider blog.  

COVID-19 cases associated with student and staff at Brock, McMaster and U of Ottawa 

Brock University says a student living off campus has tested positive for COVID-19. The student has not visited campus and is self-isolating.  

McMaster University was notified by the local health authority on September 12 that a university employee had tested positive. The institution said that staff member was last on campus on September 8 and any affected areas have been thoroughly cleaned. Earlier in the month, the university reported that a graduate student tested positive (see our September 2 update).  

An employee at the University of Ottawa has tested positive for COVID-19. CTV News reports that the employee had worked in the university’s Tabaret Hall within a week of the positive test result. Tabaret Hall houses central administrative offices including the registrar, admissions and financial services as well as administration for the faculty of social science. According to U of Ottawa’s case tracker, 12 active cases of COVID-19 have been traced to individuals who have been on campus within the last 14 days. 

City opens COVID-19 testing site at Queen’s  

Kingston Health Sciences Centre has teamed up with Queen’s University to open an assessment centre on campus. Located in Mitchell Hall, the campus centre is open to Queen’s students. It’s intended to ease traffic at other community assessment centres and has the capacity to test 50 to 60 people every weekday. 

BHER launches work-integrated-learning program focused on post-pandemic comeback 

The Business + Higher Education Roundtable has developed the Comeback Challenge, a competition that will create up to 10,000 work-integrated learning opportunities for postsecondary students and new grads. With support from the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Industry, BHER is setting up an online competition in which student teams will work together and with professionals on pitching solutions to real-world problems facing employers in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors. Participating students will compete for a chance to pitch their ideas to a panel of Canadian leaders, receive mentorship from experienced professionals, and gain exposure to unique challenges in different sectors. 

The Comeback Challenge grew out of a need for new student placement options.  

Quebec cancels fall university football, rugby seasons  

Quebec’s network for student athletics, RSEQ (Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec), has finally decided to cancel university-level sports programs until the end of 2020. In a statement, RSEQ said its members came to this decision “based primarily on the [province’s] regional alert system, which may limit the participation of universities, even if said institutions effectively manage health-and-safety best practices.” The network will, however, allow “activities involving at least two different teams” in cross-country, golf and soccer. “However, due to universities level of risk management, no inter-team activities will be permitted in football and rugby,” the network added.  

RSEQ should have a decision on winter-term leagues by October 15. 

Chem prof calls COVID-19 “fake emergency” in syllabus

Michael Palmer, a faculty member in the chemistry department at the University of Waterloo, called the pandemic a “fake emergency” in the syllabus for a fourth-year course. He made the statement under the section “evaluation” while explaining to students why exams have been cancelled for the fall term. The syllabus was posted to Reddit. The university told media that it supports faculty’s right to freedom of expression, though it doesn’t agree with Dr. Palmer’s comment.  

“Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be based on the best available advice from public health officials.” 

According to the CBCthis isn’t the first time Dr. Palmer has called the COVID-19 pandemic fake. This summer, he accidentally sent an email to his entire faculty calling the health crisis a “faked-up scare.” The dean of science responded to the email saying he was “disappointed by the tone.” 

U of Guelph goes cashless 

Cash is no longer king on the University of Guelph campus. From now on, the university will only accept debit, credit, and ID cards for payment at food outlets, the library, the bookstore, parking and other stores in the university centreU of Guelph says it made the decision as an “extra layer of safety and security during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

COVID-19 puts disability rights at risk: Human Rights Commission

The pandemic has disproportionately affected the financial, emotional and physical health of disabled people, says the Canadian Human Rights Commission. In a statement released this week, CHRC urged the federal government to include Canadians with disabilities in their discussions about the next phase of pandemic recovery and public health protocoland to offer targeted financial relief for this population. The commission points to several issues that create new barriers and risks for people with disabilities, particularly for those with visual impairments who “must rely on touching non-sanitized objects and surfaces,” or for those who rely on lip reading. 

“We are asking Canada to incorporate the diverse voices and lived experience of people with disabilities, their families and caregivers into the difficult decisions that are being made during this unprecedented time. All responses and recovery efforts must be intersectional and inclusive of the diverse needs of all people with disabilities.”

September 16, 2020

U of Windsor student tests positive for COVID-19

The University of Windsor announced yesterday that a student living off campus had tested positive for COVID-19. The student is self-isolating at home and did not attend classes on campus. It’s the first case identified among the student population at U of Windsor. The local health unit has not traced any exposure back to campus. In a press release, university president Rob Gordon extended “sincere wishes for a quick recovery to the affected student.”

More cases among Western students

Two more cases of COVID-19 have been reported among Western University’s student population, bringing the total to 7. The local health authority says the two cases are not related to the community outbreak we reported on in Monday’s updated.

The London Free Press is also reporting that Western “is not ruling out using its enhanced code of conduct to discipline students who break COVID-19 public health regulations at off-campus gatherings, penalties that could include expulsion.” The university recently expanded the scope of its student code of conduct to allow for disciplinary measures to be taken against students who contravene the policy off campus. In an interview with the newspaper, Jennifer Massey, Western’s vice-president of student experience, said that “If there is a complaint filed under the code, we’ll review that complaint carefully and we’ll have conversations, if necessary, and implement sanctions where appropriate.”

NSERC releases guidelines for explaining how the pandemic has impacted research

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council has released a new set of guidelines to help applicants explain to reviewers how the pandemic has adversely affected research and training activities. NSERC says it prepared these guidelines as a way of recognizing that researchers will experience the impacts of the global health crisis differently based on their unique situations.

“NSERC recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting researchers’ and students’ capacity to conduct their regular research and training activities. NSERC also recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to exacerbate inequities in the natural sciences and engineering research community. Certain identity factors are associated with greater impacts for some members of the research community (e.g., gender, race, Indigenous identity, geographic location, rurality, disability, age, socioeconomic status, career stage, family responsibilities, etc.).”

September 14, 2020

Local health unit declares outbreak after 5 Western students test positive for COVID-19

Western University confirmed that five students have tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. The students live off campus and as of this writing, no on-campus exposure has been found by the Middlesex-London Health Unit or the university, which is helping to conduct contact tracing. However, the students visited downtown bars and restaurants, and had interacted with other student households. The MLHU has declared a community outbreak on Sunday and said it anticipates more cases will come to light in the next few days.

In a media release, Jennifer Massey, Western’s associate vice-president of student experience, confirmed the university’s intention to continue with some limited in-person classes, but noted that this could only happen if students adhere to public health measures.

“We know our students value the opportunity to be on campus and have some in-class experiences – and for this to continue to happen, everyone must play a role in keeping themselves and the community safe by following public health guidelines,” she said. “We know students want to be together and socialize, and we strongly encourage them to avoid parties and large gatherings and ensure their social circles include a maximum of 10 people.”

The news of the community outbreak came a couple days after Western opened a mobile testing centre on campus.

The CBC spoke with students waiting in line at another testing centre in town. One of the students interviewed had been to a bar identified by the public health unit. “I’m worried, but at the end of the day, I mean, we should have been more careful,” said Mia, a Western student from Windsor. “Everyone was so excited to go back and you do feel a sense of being invincible. And then something like this really just snaps you right out of it.”

Université Sainte-Anne expels student for failing to self-isolate

The small francophone university in Church Point, Nova Scotia, has expelled a student for contravening the institution’s COVID-19 Code of Conduct, its student code of conduct and public health measures. Both require students from outside the Atlantic provinces to self-isolate for 14 days once they have arrived in the Atlantic Bubble. The university says that the student in question endangered the health and safety of others by not properly self-isolating. In a public announcement released Friday, the university said that it’s important for community members to follow public health orders on hand hygiene and physical distancing, but also to show empathy during this difficult period.

“Université Sainte-Anne wishes to remind everyone that we are experiencing a time of crisis. There are numerous stress factors, and everyone reacts differently to triggering events. We can all actively choose to be understanding and compassionate in these challenging times.”

Police in the Atlantic provinces have been handing out large fines to students who are not self-isolating properly.

Student parties make headlines

Western might be the first Canadian university to be associated with a COVID-19 outbreak this fall and U Sainte-Anne the first Canadian university to expel a student under a COVID-19 code of conduct, but if recent news coverage of student parties is any indication, they won’t be the last institution to face these challenges.

So far, local and national news outlets have reported on unsafe student parties at Trent University, Dalhousie University,the University of Victoria and Queen’s University, among others.

COVID-19 case in Carleton’s campus housing

A student living in residence at Carleton University has tested positive for COVID-19. On Saturday, the university said that this is not a case of community transmission. The student is self-isolating and the university is performing a “deep disinfection cleaning” to areas in the affected residence complex.

Students at StFX get green bracelets to mark end of isolation

St. Fracis Xavier University has devised a way to identify students who have either come to campus from within the Atlantic Bubble or who have finished their self-isolation periods. Students and staff must be wearing the bracelets in order to access academic buildings on campus.

According to the CBC, “students will be issued a green wristband once they have submitted a signed waiver, signed the university’s student community protocols, completed the isolation period and pass a general COVID-19 screening questionnaire at the time they go to get their bracelet.”

The CBC also reports that an estimated 3,200 postsecondary students have arrived in Nova Scotia and 6,000 tests have been completed. Each student from outside the Atlantic bubble is required to do three COVID tests during their 14-day quarantine.

September 11, 2020

Some preliminary enrolment numbers

As the first week of classes comes to an end at most universities in Canada today, here’s a snapshot of how fall enrolment numbers are looking so far:

  • Preliminary numbers at the University of Regina reflect a modest increase of 1.7 percent compared to this time last year (that’s 16,754 students, up from 16,468). U of R identifies COVID-19 as the reason for a slight decline in new domestic student enrolment and a 50 percent decrease in international student enrolment this fall. “These reductions were largely offset by increases in continuing students, leaving us with approximately three percent overall growth in domestic students and an approximately four percent overall decrease in international students.”
  • The University of Manitoba reports that part-time enrolment is up 18.2 percent this term, with 4,828 students registered this year, up from 4,084 in 2019. Full-time enrolment is only slightly up – by 1.4 percent (26,060 students in 2020 compared to 25,709 students in 2019). The university says undergraduate enrolment is up 4.2 percent, to 26,679 students, graduate enrolment is up by 1.1 percent, and international enrolment is up 7.5 percent (from 5,811 students in fall 2019 to 6,249 students).
  • Manitoba’s Canadian Mennonite University, one of the few universities in the country running a fall term of in-person classes, says total enrolment sits at 617 students. Enrolment (both undergraduate and graduate) is down 1.9 percent at the Shaftesbury campus. CMU is also reporting lower than usual first-year numbers – down by 20 percent – which the university attributes to a significant loss of international students. It’s worth noting that 152 students are living on campus and, though the university is offering all courses face-to-face, some eight percent of students are attending classes online.
  • Enrolment at the University of Saskatchewan is “on track to be the highest on record” for the institution, according to a report by Global News. Overall student enrolment has increased by two percent since fall 2019.
  • Mount Royal University says its enrolment is up 1.4 percent from last year. Nearly 15,000 students are pursuing undergraduate degrees so far this fall, with more registered in the university’s diploma and continuing education programs.
  • CBC has reported that Memorial University has 500 more students enrolled at the university this fall than at the start of fall 2019. The university is still projecting an $11-million loss due in large part to a decrease in international student enrolment.
  • Although Ryerson University hasn’t widely released its numbers yet, the Toronto Star reports an overall increase of four percent for undergraduate enrolment for the institution. Ryerson has, however, published a news release announcing a huge spike in enrolment at its Chang School of Continuing Education. Enrolment grew by 51 percent for fall courses, which are being delivered entirely online.
  • A Global News article reports that enrolment “appears to be up” at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. (The article also notes that the Ontario Universities Application Centre website has seen 107,001 prospective students accept offers of admission, up from 104,635 last year.)

Official enrolment numbers are typically released later in the fall.

Granting councils will accept unofficial transcripts for some fall 2020 competitions

The pandemic has created a backlog for transcript requests at several universities. With fall scholarship and fellowship competition season here, the three granting councils – the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (known collectively as the “tri-council”) – will accept unofficial transcripts as part of application packages this year.

“Applicants should contact their faculty of graduate studies to determine whether an official transcript can be provided. Submission of an application will continue to serve as a formal attestation that the applicant has provided true, complete, and accurate information in the application and its related documents.”

Tri-council releases statement on ethical research involving humans (TCPS 2) during pandemic

The tri-council’s Panel on Research Ethics, the Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research has published new interpretations to support researchers using the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans, TCPS 2 (2018) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The “COVID-19 interpretations” clarify the additional risks that the pandemic brings to research involving human participants, how researchers should address these risks in their applications to and consent forms for ethics review boards, and what research ethics boards should consider while assessing applications during the current health crisis.

September 9, 2020

With no update posted this past Monday due to the Labour Day weekend, we’ve got a lot of COVID-related news to catch up on today.

Quebec earmarks $375M for postsecondary students

Late last month, Quebec’s minister for higher education, Danielle McCann, announced $375 million in financial support for the province’s postsecondary students. About $300 million will go to a financial aid program, which includes a one-time boost of $200 million for the 2020-21 year in recognition of the hardships posed by the pandemic. The government says the new funding envelope will help cover the cost of materials such as new technology and an internet connection for online learning. Some $75 million will be dedicated to direct support to students in the form of rapid financial aid as well as academic and psychosocial supports during the pandemic. The province estimates that these changes will make financial aid accessible to more than 20,000 new student applicants.

McMaster partners with Air Canada for study on international travellers

McMaster Health Labs, Air Canada, and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority have teamed up to study the effectiveness of various quarantine periods for travellers coming through Pearson International Airport.

“Our study will provide data to help determine if an airport-based COVID-19 surveillance program is feasible, whether self-collection of COVID-19 testing is effective, and to explore options regarding the 14-day quarantine for international travel,” said John Gilmour, MHL’s chief executive officer, in a press release. Researchers are looking for “the number and percentage of arriving international travellers who test positive for COVID-19 during the federal government’s quarantine period” with the goal of providing advice to policymakers on how to ease or adapt the current restrictions in place for international travellers.

Starting September 3, study participants arriving at Pearson’s Terminal 1 will volunteer samples before leaving the airport, and will provide two more to researchers on day seven and day 14 of their quarantine period.

The study is co-directed by Vivek Goel from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, and Marek Smieja from the department of pathology and molecular medicine at McMaster University. In an interview with the CBC, Dr. Smieja noted that the 14-day quarantine was put into place soon after the pandemic was declared, when very little was known about COVID-19. “Today, we know an awful lot more about this disease, we have excellent lab tests to help guide us, and we think it’s a good time to ask the question: do we need a long quarantine?” he said.

(The postsecondary sector, for one, should be very interested in the results of any review of travel restrictions: international students contribute millions of dollars to postsecondary institutions and their absence on campuses this fall is widely felt.)

Student in N.S. fined for failing to self-isolate

It’s not just the federal government that has mandated quarantine periods for travellers. The Atlantic provinces require anyone entering the “Atlantic bubble” from outside of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival in the region. Universities in these provinces have made it clear that students coming to campus from outside Atlantic Canada must follow this policy. And now we’re seeing the consequences for those who don’t: the RCMP has fined a university student in Antigonish, N.S., $1,000 for failing to self-isolate.

Ontario folds performance-based funding announcement into back-to-school message

The Government of Ontario officially welcomed postsecondary students back to class for the fall term and thanked postsecondary institutions for their cooperation in safety planning and in sector-wide consultations over the summer. At the end of this welcome back message, the Ministry of Colleges and Universities noted that it would be delaying plans for a performance-based funding model for two more years. The plan was initially shelved this spring due to the pandemic (see May 7 update).

“To support postsecondary excellence and accountability, Ontario remains committed to moving ahead with performance-based funding. In response to COVID-19, the government is delaying the activation of performance-based funding for up to two years to provide financial stability and predictability to Ontario’s publicly funded colleges and universities.”

Some student athletes return to training under new safety rules

The University of Guelph is one school that’s welcoming student athletes back to campus for training. However, the Gryphons varsity teams will be practicing under some different conditions this year, including outdoor-only sessions, strict limits on the number of people who can participate and less contact.

The training sessions at Guelph are all in the hopes that Ontario University Athletics and other collegiate sports leagues will reinstate some variation of their leagues this academic year. Indeed, many provincial and national collegiate sports leagues in Canada have cancelled their seasons out of respect for COVID-19 safety measures, but not all. Le Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ), has said its member institutions will likely resume local league play as of September 14, the start date set by the province. Last week, the network published a guide for managing a return to university-level game play during COVID-19 [PDF] (a second guide geared towards both colleges and universities was released simultaneously). La Tribune reports that 10 doctors helped develop the documents in line with public health policies and guidelines.

UAlberta prof offers tips for breathing easier in a face mask

Many of us have had about six months to get accustomed to wearing face masks out in public, but not all of us have taken to the new face coverings like ducks to water. Respirologist Christopher Ewing, a faculty member in the medical school at the University of Alberta, offered some tips to Folio for breathing a little easier while wearing a mask – plus, how to get your kids to keep them on!

Concordia introduces social distancing circles for outdoor spaces

Concordia University has launched a pilot project that will allow staff, faculty and students to book green space for outdoor meetings for four to 17 people. Six outdoor meeting spaces have been prepared with social distancing circles (which look suspiciously like hula hoops) to encourage appropriate physical distancing during gatherings.

Photo courtesy of Concordia University.

September 4, 2020

COVID-19 case at U of Calgary facility

The University of Calgary has confirmed a case of COVID-19 in one of its facilities. According to the U of Calgary’s COVID-19 dashboard, the case has been tied to the SMART Technologies building at the university’s research park near the main campus. Exposure would’ve occurred four to seven days ago.

CAUT tracks back-to-school plans

The Canadian Association of University Teachers is tracking fall course-delivery plans in a publicly available spreadsheet. The database lists the plans of more than 110 institutions, and includes public and private universities and colleges. In a press release, CAUT noted that 55 percent of the institutions they’re tracking will mostly deliver courses online with some in-person options, 25 percent have opted for a hybrid or blended model, 16 percent are only offering online courses and two percent are offering courses primarily in person.

Redeemer and CMU release return-to-campus frameworks

Both Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ontario, and Winnipeg’s Canadian Mennonite University are both offering hybrid courses that prioritize face-to-face learning this fall. To give students and staff an overview and guidance for returning to campus, the small, faith-based institutions recently released detailed plans for the academic year.

Redeemer’s plan is founded on “Redeemer CARES,” which stands for clean, assess, respect, educate, support. It also outlines some of the safety measures the institution has adopted, including the addition of hand-washing stations around campus, a new UV air filtration system, a nurse hired to handle COVID-19 assessment and case tracking, and personal protective equipment, such as face masks and face shields, for each student and employee. A Global News report notes that nearly 360 students live in on campus in townhouse units. During the pandemic, each townhouse unit is considered a “bubble of eight.”

The CMU document stipulates that by registering for courses or agreeing to work at the university during the pandemic, students and staff automatically agree to “practice the principles, and protocols outlined in this ‘Education and Operational Framework for 2020-21.’” It outlines expectations regarding self-assessments, physical distancing, masking, hygiene, self-isolation if a case is detected, and more. The document also notes that each course has a continuity plan listed on its syllabus should a student no longer be able to attend in person, or if public health requires the university to close campus.

U of T faculty and librarians fundraise for financially vulnerable co-workers

University of Toronto faculty and librarians have raised $66,000 to help “part-time, contingent, seasonal and sub-contracted campus staff” who have been financially affected by the pandemic. Through the U of T Faculty and Librarians Solidarity Fund, employees are aiming to raise a total of $350,000 for staff who may not qualify for other aid packages or “whose hardships may have been compounded by the long-term impacts of systemic racism or sexism in society.”

“These are the people who make the university function on a day-to-day basis and facilitate campus life – they clean our buildings, make and serve food, attend to parking and make sure that everyday life on campus functions and works,” said Michelle Buckley, an associate professor in the department of human geography at U of T Scarborough and a fund co-founder. “Their work is absolutely vital to the operation of the university.”

She told U of T News that more than 120 people contributed $60,000 to the fund in its first week.

COVID testing centre opens at SMU

Saint Mary’s University in Halifax is now home to a COVID-19 testing centre. Nova Scotia Health is operating the clinic out of the university’s Homburg Centre for Health and Wellness. In a news release, the university says that it has worked closely with the health authority to “ensure that the testing centre is secure and appropriately spaced from campus activities.”

Residence move-in

Residence move-in usually makes some appearance in local news coverage each fall, but “in these unprecedented times” you can expect to see much ink and many pixels spent reporting on this fall’s return to campus housing. Media outlets in markets big and small have already produced some version of this story. Here are just a few:

  • Queen’s University is moving 400 students in at a time for a total of 2,000 this year (about half of what they’d usually house).
  • At the University of Lethbridge, 294 students will move in over the course of a week. Students are given 90 minutes to move in and are allowed one guest to help.
  • Nipissing University in North Bay, Ontario, is welcoming some 400 students in residence. Move-in is happening floor by floor and students will have two hours and two people to help. Residence halls each have “a designated self-isolation space in the event of a positive cases” and a specific hall has been designated a quarantine location for international students entering the country.
  • The University of Calgary’s on-campus housing is at less than half of its usual occupancy. The CBC says the university has organized a sort of drive-through setup for the 900 students moving to campus
  • Western University will see 70 percent occupancy, with 3,800 students moving to campus housing.

Something nice: Research kits for lab-based courses

Instructors for lab-based classes are getting more and more creative with their work-arounds for this school year of mostly remote learning.

The 70 students in Michael Naish’s second-year mechatronics systems engineering course at Western University will be getting custom-made robot kits as part of their course materials this January. And at the University of Guelph, some students in the department of integrative biology will be provided with field kits for sampling and testing freshwater from streams.

September 2, 2020

U Sainte-Anne to reopen today after COVID-19 case on campus deemed low risk

Université Sainte-Anne’s campus in Church Point, Nova Scotia, is set to reopen today after a student tested positive for COVID-19 this past weekend. The province specifically mentioned the university case in a statement released on August 31 alerting the public to two new cases and two probable cases of COVID-19. On September 1, the province added that the student in the U Sainte-Anne case “did not properly self-isolate” and the health authority was in the process of tracking down close contacts. (The two probable cases involved a student at Dalhousie University and a student at Acadia University. Both students received “indeterminate” test results and have been self-isolating since they arrived in the Atlantic region.)

Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, Robert Strang, noted in yesterday’s press release that the case at U Sainte-Anne underlines the value of the testing strategy that the province put in place on August 20 for postsecondary students coming from outside the Atlantic bubble (see our update published on August 21 for more information on the strategy). “It’s helping us detect and manage cases early,” he said. “The testing strategy does not replace the need to follow other public health measures. The combination of testing, self-isolating and digital check-ins will help to ensure the safety of all students, faculty and staff, and their neighbouring communities.”

In a statement sent out on September 1, the university said its Church Point campus had been given the green light to reopen following a determination that the student was at low risk of transmitting the disease to others.

Yukon U temporarily shuts down campus

Yukon University has closed its Ayamdigut campus in Whitehorse for 48 hours after learning from the territory’s COVID-19 compliance officers that two students in campus housing failed to self-isolate for 14 days as instructed by the government when they entered the territory. Although the risk of infection is low, the university has restricted access to the campus until Friday while contact tracing takes place.

The shut-down was announced on the first day of fall term – Yukon U’s first fall term as a university. With most of the term taking place online, the university has temporarily adapted campus spaces, including the cafeteria, to house student services.

McMaster confirms COVID-19 case

On Monday, McMaster University posted a message about a confirmed case of COVID-19 on campus. The case involves a graduate student and the university noted that “all areas where the student was on campus have been thoroughly cleaned and are open for normal operations.”

McMaster requires all faculty and staff members coming to campus to participate in an online training on COVID-19 safety and preparedness, and to complete “a COVID screening tool” any time they visit university facilities.

CanCOVID network wins millions in federal funding

CanCOVID, a transdisciplinary research and policy network co-founded by Canada’s chief science officer Mona Nemer this spring, has been awarded $1.25 million by the Government of Canada. (See the April 2 update below for more on CanCOVID.)

The network now counts more than 2,300 members – researchers, clinicians, policy advisors and others – who collaborate digitally in research and development areas related to the pandemic to advise policymakers as well as frontline workers. According to a press release from the network, this new investment will help to “establish thematic research networks, based on priorities developed in collaboration with the government” as well as the development of “partnerships with other networks such as the COVID19Resources platform and the Rapid Evidence Access Link (REAL) network, which both also originated as a COVID-19 response effort.”

The network also announced new leadership. Its secretariat will be led by academic and managing director Julia Zarb, an expert in health informatics, and scientific advisor Vivek Goel, a public health physician who recently stepped down as vice-president, research, at the University of Toronto in order to lead that institution’s pandemic response. The secretariat will be based out of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at U of T, where both work as faculty members.

Something nice: U of Guelph’s O-Week boxes

Convocation-in-a-box was the first university milestone to be made mail-friendly during the pandemic. Now its orientation’s turn. The University of Guelph has prepared Guelph O-Week boxes for all new students. They include tea, an ebook link to this year’s Gryphons Read selection (Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai) and other “U of G-themed goodies, necessities and keepsakes” that have been packaged in a keepsake box bearing the university’s official colours.

“We think students are going to love these boxes,” said Rosanna Beattie, coordinator of orientation programs. “We know this is an unusual year and while we can’t meet each student face-to-face on campus, we wanted to provide them with a tangible welcome and introduction to the Gryphon family.”

August 28, 2020

New measures on work permit eligibility for international students

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada announced new measures on Wednesday to add more flexibility to post-graduation work permit eligibility for international students beginning their programs online from abroad. Three changes are being introduced:

  • Students may now study online from abroad until April 30, 2021, with no time deducted from the length of a future post-graduation work permit, provided 50 percent of their program of study is eventually completed in Canada.
  • Students who have enrolled in a program that is between 8 and 12 months in length, with a start date from May to September 2020, will be able to complete their entire program online from abroad and still be eligible for a post-graduation work permit.
  • Students who have enrolled in a program with a start date from May to September 2020 and study online up to April 30, 2021, and who graduate from more than one eligible program of study, may be able to combine the length of their programs of study when they apply for a post-graduation work permit in the future, as long as 50 percent of their total studies are completed in Canada.

To be eligible for these measures, IRCC said students must have submitted a study permit application before starting a program of study in the spring, summer or fall 2020 semester, or the January 2021 semester. “All students must eventually be approved for a study permit,” it stated, adding that the easing of COVID-19 related restrictions will depend on the progress made in Canada and around the world in containing the spread of the coronavirus.

The website The Pie News notes that IRCC has introduced a range of measures in recent months aimed at supporting international students affected by the pandemic, from fast-track processing and a temporary two-stage process to accepting incomplete applications for study permits and post-graduation work permits.

U of Ottawa to open on-campus COVID-19 testing centre

The University of Ottawa announced yesterday that it will be the first university in Ontario to open its own on-campus COVID-19 assessment centre. For now, the centre will only be open to students, staff and faculty members of the university. “Having an on-campus testing facility will support people working and learning on campus and will ensure they have all the tools and resources they need to stay safe,” says University of Ottawa president Jacques Frémont.

The university says it expects to welcome back in September about two-thirds of its researchers, approximately 5,000 students who are enrolled in courses that have in-person learning requirements, as well as a small number of faculty members and staff. “Once the centre is up and running at full capacity, the hope is that the uOttawa assessment centre will also help lighten the load carried by other testing facilities in the city,” says Dr. Frémont.

The testing centre is a collaboration between the university and The Ottawa Hospital. It is projected to open in early September and will remain open for six months, with a possible extension depending on community need.

Don’t party, students are warned

Meanwhile, the mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, is urging university students to be “responsible and thoughtful” as they return to the city for the new academic year by avoiding large social gatherings that could act as a “petri dish” to spread COVID-19. “This is not the year to have keg parties with 100 of your closest friends,” said Mr. Watson in an interview with CTV News.

That message was echoed by Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Referencing the situation in the U.S., where large off-campus gatherings have led to subsequent COVID-19 outbreaks at numerous colleges and universities, he called it a “terrible example” for students to follow. He added, “you can party after,” once the pandemic is ended.

August 26, 2020

First COVID-19 case at Mount Allison

Mount Allison University announced yesterday on Facebook that it was informed by New Brunswick Public Health of “a positive case for COVID-19 in our campus community.” There was no mention of whether the individual is a student; the public health department says simply that the case “is travel-related and the individual has been in self-isolation since their arrival in New Brunswick.” Public health says it believes the case poses a low risk to the campus community. The university says no other details will be released at this time “to respect confidentiality.”

Like most universities, Mount Allison is offering a combination of online and in-person classes for the upcoming academic year. It has organized a phased three-week move-in period for students from August 14 to September 7. All students travelling from outside of the four Atlantic provinces must self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. The university has prepared a 30-page COVID-19 guide for students explaining in detail its preparations for the new academic year.

Meanwhile, the situation worsens in the U.S.

As the start of the fall term approaches in Canada, university administrators here must be keeping a wary eye on the deteriorating situation south of the border. According to the New York Times, there have been at least 26,000 cases of COVID-19 at more than 750 U.S. colleges and universities since the start of the pandemic. Most of these cases have occurred since the beginning of August as students begin to return to campuses.

Among the worst hit is the University of Alabama system, which has recorded 566 positive cases since August 19, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard. The university’s student newspaper, the Crimson White, reports on the chaos this is creating as some students are forced to leave their dorms so that the rooms can be converted into COVID-19 isolation facilities. Iowa State University has reported 130 cases in the week since courses started. The University of Missouri currently has 159 active cases since August 19. Auburn University has seen over 200 cases this week alone. The University of Miami reported 141 after the first week of class, and the University of Kentucky has seen 250 cases so far. (The latter three were included in this report from Inside Higher Ed.) The list goes on and on …

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill made national headlines when it announced on August 17, just days after in-person classes began, that it would revert to fully online instruction for undergraduates after 177 coronavirus cases were confirmed. The university has now seen at least 635 positive cases since August 10, according to its dashboard, including a cluster of 152 cases in a single residence. On August 18, Notre Dame University followed UNC’s lead and cancelled in-person instruction for at least two weeks to slow the spread of the disease. The university currently reports 471 positive cases since August 3.

Something nice: Trent U provides 500 laptops to students

Trent University announced last Friday that it will be providing 500 Chromebooks to students who may not otherwise have the financial or technological resources to fully participate in remote learning this fall. The university has raised $270,000 from donors for what it’s calling the Remote Learning Initiative. Speaking to Global News, Sherry Booth, director of philanthropy at Trent, said “not having the correct technology can directly translate to not having access to a quality education.” She also said the Trent program is unique because, unlike similar initiatives where institutions loan laptops to students, the Chromebooks will be a permanent gift.

August 21, 2020

International students face an uncertain fall term

With the new academic year fast approaching, “Canadian colleges and universities have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to find a path forward for international students seeking to study here,” writes Pierre Cyr, vice-president of public affairs at the communications firm FleishmanHillard HighRoad, in an op-ed published August 19 in The Hill Times (subscription required). But, he warns, changes in policy by the federal government have created much ambiguity, with the result that international students “still do not know if they can come to Canada in a couple of weeks to start their studies.”

The federal government, he explains, had originally left it to the provinces and territories to determine whether each college and university had a sufficient plan in place to quarantine and support arriving students. However, the government has since changed its approach and is now asking postsecondary institutions to submit their plans for approval by local health authorities, provincial public health officers, Health Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada. “Anybody who understands the pace of government knows that it will take nothing short of a miracle for plans to be approved in time for September,” he writes. “In addition, once successful in navigating this complexity, colleges and universities are still uncertain as to how the approval from the federal government will be provided.”

Noting that international students contributed $22 billion last year to the Canadian economy, Mr. Cyr says that if this issue is not resolved urgently, “thousands of layoffs will soon occur at Canadian colleges and universities, and the impacts on and off campuses throughout the country will be felt for decades to come.”

Joseph Wong, University of Toronto’s interim vice-president, international, hints at a further source of ambiguity for international students in a Q&A posted on the university’s website. The federal government requires that students have a “non-discretionary reason” to enter the country, and Dr. Wong is asked, how is this determined? He replies: “Right now, it’s going to come down to Canada Border Services agents to decide” (emphasis added). To minimize the possibility of a student being turned away, he says U of T is providing letters for international students that specify that they do have a non-discretionary reason to be in Canada, i.e., studying or conducting research in person on campus. “Students should contact their registrar to obtain a personalized letter of support and make sure they have this letter, as well as a confirmation of enrolment, with them when they arrive at the border,” he says.

Addressing the need for international students to self-isolate for 14 days upon their arrival, Dr. Wong says they must have a plan ready before they arrive. This should be done through the ArriveCAN app, he says, which asks where the student is going to stay, how they’re going to get there, how they will isolate, who’s going to get their food, and so on. The university is offering a quarantine accommodation plan to newly arriving international students, which includes transportation from the airport, a private room, three meals a day and other supports. International students make up nearly a quarter of the student population at U of T.

New Institute for Pandemics

Speaking of U of T, the university announced on Wednesday that it is launching a new Institute for Pandemics in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. The institute’s aim is “to help the world prepare better, fight smarter and recover faster from crises caused by communicable diseases.” The founding director of the institute is the school’s dean, Steini Brown. The institute is being launched with a $1-million gift from the Toronto-based Vohra Miller Foundation.

Testing required for students entering Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil announced yesterday that postsecondary students entering the province from outside Atlantic Canada will not only be required to self-isolate for 14 days but will also need to get tested for the coronavirus. Students will be tested at three different times during their 14-day isolation period. They cannot attend in-person classes until their testing and self-isolation are complete and they have received negative test results. The order is effective immediately, and includes students who have already arrived and are currently self-isolating. “This is an important moment in our province,” said Mr. McNeil, as quoted by the CBC. “We have to be realistic. COVID is not going away. But our hope is that our isolation plan and our testing strategy will [prevent] a major spike in cases.”

Academic staff overworked and stressed out

A survey conducted by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has found that the pandemic has significantly increased the workload and stress levels of academic staff across the country. CAUT surveyed 4,300 academic staff from universities and colleges in all provinces between May 13 and June 12. The results were released on Thursday.

Among the key findings, a majority of academic staff report they are working more than before the COVID-19 pandemic, with almost one-third working an additional 10 hours or more per week; 84 percent say they are experiencing somewhat or much higher stress levels due to the pandemic, caused by the need to balance work and dependent care, the challenges with teaching and research, and job insecurity; 68 percent say they are worried about the challenges of remote teaching; and two-thirds indicate they are doing less research or none at all due to the inability to attend conferences, dependent care responsibilities, inability to access labs or offices, not being able to conduct in-person research, and increased teaching demands.

“It is not clear how the concerns about remote teaching, research and jobs at universities and colleges are going to be addressed without more government and institutional support for postsecondary education,” said CAUT president Brenda Austin-Smith.

August 19, 2020

Universities’ fall plans, by the numbers

The team at Canadian education startup CourseCompare.ca has spent the last month tracking 150 colleges and universities across the country to determine what the student experience will look like on campus and online for this coming fall. All the details are compiled here, including a series of handy, searchable interactive tables. Among the highlights: 54 percent of postsecondary schools in the country will deliver programs online, 40 percent will be running a hybrid model (online and in-person delivery), and about four percent are offering the majority of courses in person – largely in areas where infection rates have been low and where class sizes are typically small, with sizeable facilities to accommodate social distancing.

“We’ll continue to update this data on an ongoing basis, including best practices emerging around safety and student support at schools across Canada. This includes monitoring the role technology will play in facilitating a safe and successful fall semester for students,” says CourseCompare founder Robert Furtado in an email to University Affairs. A former college instructor, Mr. Furtado authored an op-ed for University Affairs about the “loneliness of the online learner” published in March – ironically, just before the pandemic lockdown.

The opening of university residences

CourseCompare notes that on-campus housing, where available, will largely be reduced to students living solo in dorm rooms. Nevertheless, Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, worries about the public health challenges as students begin to congregate in campus residences. “As much as universities are going to have rules, there’s going to be an element of wanting to socialize and interact with people,” she told CBC. “Striking that balance may be challenging.”

A clusterf*ck in the U.S.

Whatever Canadian universities’ plans are for the fall term, they will want to avoid the dire situation unfolding at some campuses south of the border, where major outbreaks of COVID-19 are occurring. The poster child for pandemic pandemonium is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which announced on Monday that, just days into the fall term, it has reversed course from its commitment to in-person instruction, and has told all undergraduate students to go home (including moving out of campus dorms) and prepare for online instruction starting today. According to Inside Higher Ed, between Aug. 10 and 16, 130 students at Chapel Hill tested positive for the coronavirus, along with five employees. “We all saw this coming,” said the headline of the online edition of the student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, while the print edition declared indelicately, “UNC has a clusterfuck on its hands.”

Dozens of other U.S. colleges have announced outbreaks over the past several days. The University of Notre Dame in Indiana just disclosed 80 new COVID-19 cases on campus, bringing the total to 147 cases since August 3; Bethel College in Kansas has “approximately 50” cases, including 43 students and seven employees; and the University of Texas at Austin has the distinction of being the leader among U.S. colleges in COVID-19 cases, hitting a cumulative total of 479 as of August 13 (291 students and 188 faculty and staff). Of note, UNC Chapel Hill,  UT Austin and Notre Dame are all posting their pandemic data on special COVID-19 dashboards – exemplars of transparent data reporting. The University of Calgary is also maintaining a COVID-19 dashboard, but there are currently no recent cases to report.

Many of the clusters in the U.S. are linked to large parties off-campus, as well as to fraternities and sororities – including at Oklahoma State University, where 23 members of a sorority house tested positive this past weekend. Last month, 45 coronavirus cases at the University of Southern California were linked to fraternities, and more than 100 students living in fraternity houses near the University of Washington campus tested positive for COVID-19.

August 14, 2020

York preps for online winter term 

The Senate Executive Committee at York University has approved the extension of fall remote learning plans into the winter 2021 termThis means the same fundamental approach to course delivery in the fall will also apply for the Winter 2021 term. The guidelines are premised on preparing for online/remote delivery of both undergraduate and graduate courses,” explained Lisa Philipps, provost and vice-president, academic, in an update to the community.  

Alberta institutions collaborate on OER 

Seven higher education institutions in Alberta have jointly created Open Education Albertaa free publishing service for open educational resources available to all postsecondary instructors in the province. “Faculty [members] are already looking at ways to revisit how they’re going to deliver their courses for the fall, and OERs might solve some of the problems that they’re encountering in terms of student access to learning materials,” said Cari Merkley, a librarian at Mount Royal University and co-lead on the project.  

Concordia sends mini lab kits to chem students at home 

Chemistry professors at Concordia University are sending students in this fall’s General Chemistry 1 class their very own mini lab kits. About 600 kits will be distributed so students in the entry-level course can get hands-on experience while following the class lectures online at homeThe kits include lab-grade glassware (beakers, flasksgraduated cylinders), a weighing balance and a burette. The instructors have prepared experiments for this fall’s courses that will make use of ingredients you’d find easily enough at home or in a grocery store, such as vinegar, saltrubbing alcohol, rice and paper clips. Not only does this make the assignments easy and safe to do at home, it reinforces for students that chemistry occurs everywhere – not just in a lab.  

Free masks at U of T 

Following a similar announcement from Western University, the University of Toronto has said it will distribute 250,000 non-medical masks to students, staff, faculty and librarians on campus. Each person will get two reusable U of T-branded polyester masks. The university explained that these are to supplement the face coverings that people were already bringing to campus on their own.  

Research round-up 

Here’s a quick sketch of some interesting COVID-related research that’s come out of Canadian universities the past few weeks 

August 11, 2020

Report details the impact of COVID-19 on graduate students 

In late April, the Toronto Science Policy Network (TSPN) launched a survey to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic was impacting graduate students across Canada. The results of that survey are now in and are contained in a new report released by the TSPN on MondayThe Early Impacts of COVID-19 on Graduate Students Across CanadaThe report is based on 1,431 responses gathered between April 22 and May 31The survey included questions relating to working from home, health and wellness, teaching and course requirements, research, funding, and the experiences of graduate students during COVID-19. 

Among the key findings:  

  • Graduate students are increasingly concerned about their possible sources of income and ongoing expenses, including tuition fees, stipends and assistantships. 
  • Around three-quarters of graduate students reported that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their ability to conduct research due to institutional closures.  
  • More than a quarter (26 percent) of graduate students are now considering taking a longterm leave of absence due to health and wellness concerns, compared to 10 percent pre-pandemic. Graduate students increasingly reported experiencing anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness, loneliness, or being overwhelmed compared to before COVID-19. 
  • Over half of international students were worried about completing their degree requirements before the expiration of their study permit. 
  • Of those planning to complete degree requirements by August 2020 (n=367), half report being unable or uncertain about their ability to graduate as a result of COVID-19. 

The report includes numerous recommendations (additional details regarding each recommendation are available on page 42 of the full report). They include: 

  • Establish clear and direct lines of communication between graduate students, supervisors, departments and institutions.  
  • Reduce the financial burden faced by graduate students, and introduce flexibility into degree completion times. 
  • Improve existing health and wellness support systems available at institutions. 
  • Provide extensions to study and work permits for international students. 
  • Mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the ability of graduate students to conduct research. 
  • Improve the quality of virtual teaching and coursework by establishing clear expectations, introducing relevant pedagogical training and increasing the flexibility of course structures. 
  • Advocate for increased support for graduate students to decision-makers within institutions, and in various levels of government. 

Similar to other sectors, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to temporary closures of institutions and research spaces, forcing graduate students to put their studies on hold, which, in many cases, has caused considerable delays in degree completion, and the abandonment of ongoing coursework, research, or other academic responsibilities,” reads the reportWhile some aspects of graduate studies can be completed remotely, many graduate students remain trapped in a limbo, facing an uncertain future. 

Tuition fight heats up 

Students have been calling for reduced tuition fees for months, but as we quickly approach the fall term and students start registering for courses, there is renewed attention to calls for lowered fees at institutions that will run online courses only. Appeals are being made in the media by international students at Lakehead Universitywhere their tuition will increase by five to six percentStudents in New Brunswick have concerns about the level of food service they’ll be paying for through dining fees 

A professor at the University of British Columbia has even jumped in, suggesting that lowered tuition fees will allow students more time to study and flourish and less time taking on debt or seeking out paid work. But rather than simply appeal to individual institutions, she suggests the solution could come from more government funding. “It doesn’t have to be like this. Canada could make quite different choices to support students’ postsecondary education. In the short term, it would mean additional government funding to allow universities to reduce tuition fees, as COVID-19 changes the student experience. In the longer term, it means reopening discussion about university funding.” 

In this article by the CBC, one Ryerson student said she’s feeling “burnt out” after months of pushing for lowered tuition, and that she anticipates these protests to waver as student priorities shift with the end of summer. It’s worth noting that several universities and student unions have announced modest decreases to student fees this fall (see, for example, the University of Regina and Brock University). And recently, the University of Guelph promoted several new supports for international students – tuition credits, bursaries, scholarships and online programming are among them (it’s hard to make the argument that you’re paying for services you can’t access when the institution shows that it’s actually doubling-down on assistance). 

August 5, 2020

B.C. releases reopening guidelines for province’s postsecondary institutions 

Last week, British Columbia released “Go Forward,” the official guidelines for the province’s postsecondary institutions. The document provides the basic steps that institutions should follow to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 outbreak on campus. Topics addressed include transportation, cleaning as well as keeping specific communities and spaces safe. 

USherbrooke students petition for pass/fail grades this summer 

The student union at the University of Sherbrooke has published a petition asking administration to return to a mixed grading model in which students can opt for a pass/fail instead of the traditional grading scale for the summer term. The pass/fail option was introduced at the university for the winter term to accommodate significant course disruptions due to the pandemic. The university returned to its standard grading scale for the summer term. The student union says that decision was unfair since the challenges that affected the winter term – psychological distress, internet connectivity issues, limited access to research resources and faculty members, for example – continue to impact students’ performance. In an interview with Radio-Canada, the union reported that more than half of all students registered in summer courses have signed the petition.  

Christine Hudonthe university’s vice-rectrice (vice-president), academic, explained that the institution reverted to its standard grading style because instructors had time to prepare for the online summer term and they were not forced to rapidly adapt their courses as they had been during the winter term. 

The university is offering a hybrid course model for the fall term, with many in-person classes expected to be available to students.  

International students 

Last month, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada updated its guidance and policy page for study permits during the pandemic. One change intended to help international students starting a program in Canada this fall is a temporary two-stage assessment process for study permit applications. “This temporary two-stage assessment process for study permit applications intends to provide a certain degree of reassurance to international students who cannot provide all of the required documents or information needed to finalize the assessment of their study permit application.” To be eligible for this process, applicants must have sent in a new study permit application electronically on or before September 15, 2020, and their program of study must begin in the fall 2020 at the latest. The site includes information about distance-learning programs, cancelled programs, deferred acceptance, and more.  

The PIE News has an overview of IRCC’s back-and-forth on travel exemptions for students, which has left many international students confused and anxious about studying remotely in the coming school year: “The changes have caused great concern amongst international students, who say that studying in their home country is not a feasible option because of time differences and because online study does not provide good value for money.” 

Meanwhile, CTV News reports that Canada has seemingly relaxed border bans for students coming to Canada from the United States 

And the CBC is reporting on efforts by language schools to bring students to Canada: “The Study Safe Corridor initiative, which is awaiting approval from the federal government, would see Air Canada provide charter flights to bring COVID-screened students from countries such as Turkey, Japan, South Korea and Brazil. number of Canadian hotels have agreed to offer ‘full-service quarantine packages’ for the students during their 14-day isolation period. A health insurance partner is involved in the plan as well.” 

Mt. AllisonStFX formally partner with student unions to bring students back to campus 

Two universities on Canada’s east coast recently announced new partnerships with their student unions in order to ease the return to campus.  

Mount Allison University has partnered with the Mount Allison Students’ Union and the Town of Sackville, New Brunswick, to form the MtA Sackville Bubble initiative.” The partnership is based on a voluntary “community commitment” that “encourages students, faculty, staff, businesses, landlords, and all residents to do their part to protect everyone in the bubble by following Public Health directives” on and off campus, and to stay informed about the pandemic. Part of the initiative is MtA Sackville Bubble Welcome Centre for new and returning students at a local community centre during the university’s move-in period from August 14 to September 7. The centre will provide a one-stop hub for students to collect their identification, welcome packages, and additional public health information from the town, the student union and the university. In preparation for a mixed model fall term, the university has also published its back-to-campus plans and an updated student code of conduct.  

At St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, university president Andy Hakin and union president Sarah Elliott participated in a virtual signing ceremony yesterday to finalize a memorandum of understanding between administration and the student group. The university has decided to continue requiring students to sign a “COVID-19 waiver” (see the update published July 31 for more on that) and the MOU goes some way to smooth over that controversy by formalizing student support for the institution’s back-to-campus plans and the responsibilities on both sides. Officially, the purpose of the MOU is to outline “the shared principles and actions” both groups will take “concerning our shared commitment to providing a safe and healthy learning environment specifically relating to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

 July 31, 2020

CAUCE conference to continue online, while Congress prepares for multiple scenarios in 2021

Next year’s conference for the Canadian Association for University Continuing Education will take place online. The association confirmed the news in an email this week, stating that it has “made the difficult decision” to cancel the face-to-face conference in Calgary in May 2021 as a result of concerns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chief among these concerns are the travel restrictions in place at Canada’s borders and across the country. “Since we are not 100 percent confident that there will be a vaccine within the year, we will hold our conference virtually or as a hybrid model in 2021.”

Soon after the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and host campus Western University were forced to abruptly cancel the 2020 edition of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which was set to take place from May 30 to June 5. Despite the Federation’s best efforts to move Congress online, the best they could do in the time they had was prepare a “Virtual Conference Week” featuring four scholarly associations (most years, some 70 associations participate in Congress, Canada’s largest annual scholarly conference).

The organizers for Congress 2021, which will be hosted by the University of Alberta, are starting to get their ducks in a row for next year’s conference and preparing for the possibility that large group events and air travel will still be largely discouraged next spring. To that end, the Federation has created a task force for “Congress contingency planning.” The eight-person panel will meet remotely to conduct a risk assessment, draft recommendations, identify any challenges associated with virtual programming, and find ways to innovate the conference. The group has already started its work and the Federation plans to have an update on program delivery by November.

National ‘exposure notification app’ launches in Ontario

Ontario residents can now download COVID Alert, a mobile app developed by Canadian Digital Service that alerts users when they have been in contact with another user who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Contact-tracing apps use a mobile device’s Bluetooth capability to emit a personalized, anonymous signal and to register the signals of other users in the vicinity. The app then compares those signals against a database of registered users and sends you a notification if any of those signals have been associated with a case of COVID-19. The federal government refers to COVID Alert as an “exposure notification app,” though it appears to work in similar fashion to contact-tracing apps.

iPolitics reports that while designing the app, the federal government considered concerns raised by Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien, who in May said that “everything hinges on design, and appropriate design depends on respect for certain key privacy principles.”

Additional information about the new app, including what kind of data it does and does not collect, is available on the Government of Ontario website and technical details are available in this blog post by staff at the Canadian Digital Service.

Nova Scotia universities make masks mandatory

Universities in Nova Scotia are joining their counterparts across the country in making face masks mandatory for anyone on campus. The Council of Nova Scotia University Presidents announced the new policies yesterday, less than a week after the province’s chief medical officer required non-medical face masks to be worn in indoor public places. Each university will implement its own policies and guidelines for mask-wearing on campus.

Dalhousie University published its rules yesterday. They stipulate that physical distancing must be practiced even when face masks are worn. Face coverings must be worn by anyone “travelling through or working/studying in any indoor common areas and public spaces including buildings, libraries, food establishments, residences, hallways, stairwells, elevators, and common study areas” and by anyone taking public transportation. They are not required “in areas such as laboratories and classrooms,” though “they can provide an added measure of protection to others while personnel are moving around within these spaces and their use in such circumstances is encouraged where practical.”

Controversial waiver stays put at StFX

Face masks aren’t the only new mandatory measure at St. Francis Xavier University. The university in Antigonish, N.S., has decided to stay the course with a controversial waiver it sent to students earlier this month, which absolves the institution of legal responsibility in the event that a student contracts COVID-19 while attending classes or activities on campus. According to Global News, the waiver asks students “to agree the college isn’t liable for ‘loss, damage, illness, sickness, expense or injury including death’ that students or their next of kin may suffer as a result of COVID-19 risks.”

In a message to the university community, StFX president Andy W. Hakin explained the decision.

“The StFX Board of Governors’ Executive determined that the new Student Community Protocols and the legal waiver remain the best way forward and a necessity in order for the university to welcome students to campus in the fall. It was also recognized that, to date, we’ve engaged in a very open and transparent planning process but that we should have done a better job of engaging students before sending out the waiver. I can understand why students were concerned and why further consideration, including consulting with the Students’ Union, was necessary before confirming a path forward.”

July 29, 2020

Feds publish guidance document for reopening postsecondary institutions

With about a month to go before the start of the fall term, the Government of Canada has published a document to help guide the reopening of postsecondary institutions during the pandemic. The guidance document was jointly developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and provincial governments, with input from local health authorities and public health experts. It touches on a wide range of issues, from strategies for mitigating the risk of an outbreak at a postsecondary institution and for addressing the mental-health needs of staff and students, to how to respond to and recover from an outbreak on campus.

Considering how different one university or college is from the next, coming up with a universal approach to reopening campuses is a challenge. In a nutshell:

“Postsecondary institutions are complex environments, and vary in geographic location, size (both in terms of infrastructure and student population), provision of services, and structure. They also comprise individuals who can vary widely in age, gender, ability, race, ethnicity/culture, and other factors, and may have underlying medical conditions and barriers to wellness. In addition to student instruction, they may also be engaged in activities such as housing staff and students, providing services to faculty, staff and students and the community, research, and hosting academic/social/cultural events and gatherings.”

While each institution will take an approach to reopening that best suits its community, this document from the federal government is a good place to start.

New grads could lose out on more than $25,000 in earnings over next five years: StatCan

Statistics Canada has published an analysis of how pandemic-related unemployment could affect the earning potential of the class of 2020 over the next five years. According to a simulation that the agency ran, new grads could lose out on more than $25,000 in earnings between now and 2025.

The agency notes the unemployment rate for 15- to 24-year-olds has nearly tripled between February and May – May’s rate of 29.4 percent is “the highest monthly rate observed since the data have been tabulated, and even notably higher than during the last three recessions in the early 1980s, early 1990s, and late 2000s.” In short, this year’s graduating class is entering a dire job market, which will likely have a negative impact on their earning potential for the next several years. To gauge this impact, Statistics Canada calculated the potential total losses by simulating unemployment rates ranging from 16 percent to 28 percent. The total of $25,000 was based on an unemployment rate of 27.5 percent (the unemployment rate recorded for June) and on income recorded in the first five years post-graduation for previous cohorts.

The agency also estimated the earning differences between men and women, and between college and university graduates. Each scenario saw steeper decline in income for women. The analysis is available on Statistics Canada’s website.

Deadline extended for Stage 2 applications to Canada Research Continuity Emergency Fund

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council announced that the application deadline for Stage 2 of the Canada Research Continuity Emergency Fund has been extended to August 6. The program, a tri-agency initiative, offers income support for research personnel to help maintain the research enterprise at Canadian universities that have experienced funding challenges due to the pandemic.

 Ontario faculty associations support #SafeSeptember day of action for high schools

The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations and its member associations participated in a day of action today to call on the provincial government to prioritize a safe reopening of schools this September. In a call to members, OCUFA explained why it would be participating in the #SafeSeptember campaign: “As workers, parents, and educators, many of us have acutely felt the pressures of juggling our work and care responsibilities during the pandemic. We also share the concerns of our colleagues in the secondary system regarding the Ford government’s reckless and poorly-designed plans for reopening schools and campuses.”

Read the official statement of support from the Ontario Universities and Colleges coalition here.

Something nice: How Acadia profs are preparing for September

Each week in July, Acadia University’s community development program has tweeted out a short video from professors in the department saying hello to students and explaining how they’ve been preparing for the upcoming fall term.

In this video, professor Gabrielle Donnelly delivers an open, honest and reassuring message to students (while also giving us some great colour-coded bookshelf inspo).

July 27, 2020

Less than one in 100 blood donations have SARS-CoV-2 antibodies: COVID-19 Immunity Task Force

Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force and Canada Blood Services released the findings of their first round of tests on blood donor samples for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. The task force has found that of 10,000 donors samples collected between May 9 and June 8, 2020, less than 1 percent tested positive for antibodies to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – which suggests that less than one percent of these donors were infected with the coronavirus at some point.

“What is clear is that only a small percentage of adult Canadians has been infected by SARS-CoV-2,” Catherine Hankins, task force co-chair, explained. “By far, the majority of us remain vulnerable to infection. We need to ramp up testing and tracing capacity across the country to interrupt any chains of transmission quickly to prevent unchecked spread.”

Co-chair David Naylor added that the results “suggest there are several undetected infections for every case confirmed with swabs and RNA tests,” and that they support public health advice to wear a face covering in public spaces, frequently wash hands and practice physical distancing.

CMAJ News notes that “a population seroprevalence of around one percent is a far cry from the 60 percent to 70 percent considered necessary for herd immunity.” In the CMAJ article, Dr. Hankins also points out that “blood donors are not necessarily representative of the Canadian population since they tend to be young (aged 17-70), healthy, urban, and exclude people in the North.”

The task force and Canada Blood Services will continue testing some 37,800 samples collected across nine provinces this spring. Héma-Québec will analyze 7,000 samples from Quebec. Additional initiatives by the task force will look at SARS-CoV-2 and the impact on pregnant women, Indigenous people and older Canadians, as well as a household study conducted by Statistics Canada.

CFI and federal government commit $230 million to scientific research

Last week, Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, announced $230 million to help cover operating costs at 14 national research facilities through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Major Science Initiatives Fund. According to CFI, the funding “will further strengthen the facilities’ ongoing research activities and their efforts to combat COVID-19.” Some of the funded projects include:

  • SNOLAB, a lab specializing in neutrino and dark matter physics, is designing a simple ventilator
  • Érudit, an online database of Canadian social sciences and humanities publications, led by Université de Montréal, is offering articles about the pandemic under an open access license
  • CGEn, a national platform for genome sequencing and analysis is leading a COVID-19 host genome sequencing initiative

A full list of funded projects is available here.

The foundation is also looking for peer reviewers to evaluate applications to its Exceptional Opportunities Fund-COVID-19 competition.

Three universities team up on COVID-19 vaccine research

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan’s VIDO-InterVac are collaborating with scientists at the University of Manitoba and Dalhousie University to speed up work on the lab’s COVID-19 vaccine. Alyson Kelvin, a virologist and an assistant professor in pediatrics, microbiology and immunology at Dalhousie, is researching respiratory virus infection and vaccination with animal modelling. Jason Kindrachuk, assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in Molecular Pathogenesis of Emerging and Re-emerging Viruses at U of Manitoba, conducted his doctoral research at VIDO-InterVac.

More on residence move-in plans this fall

The University of New Brunswick has clarified its plans to bring students back to on-campus housing this September. UNB, which will run most courses online, opened residence applications to all students — however not all residences will be open, the CBC reports. Between August 14 and 20, some 56 students self-isolate in Saint John and 30 in Fredericton. During that time, the university will offer online programming and will have nursing staff monitor self-isolating students.

On the other side of the country, the University of Alberta has developed a full-service “isolation accommodation program.” Students, staff and faculty returning to any postsecondary institution in Edmonton can book an all-inclusive isolation stay on the U of A campus. The program includes airport pickup, accommodation in a residence hall, meal delivery, regular check-ins, and access to campus and community health services for a fee of $975.

A student explains why she’s moving back to her university town this fall

If all this news about residence move-in has you wondering why students are moving back to university towns for a term that will run largely online, an undergraduate student in her third year at Western University explains why she’ll be returning to London:

“Being in the city puts me in the mindset to do work. My home is many wonderful things, but it’s not the place I should be this fall. Moving back to London also means reliable internet access — something that my parents’ house has always struggled with. For many, living in a rural area means good internet access is more expensive. I’ve spent many hours this summer sitting in the library parking lot, computer on my lap, rotating the air conditioning on and off to save the car battery, attempting to load my political science lecture. And that’s just for one class, a full course load would be completely unmanageable. … Moving back to my university town means freedom.”

Western, for its part, is preparing for the return to campus by providing a university-branded reusable face mask to each member of the campus community – the university will issue more than 121,000 masks in total.

July 23, 2020

IRCC advises international students not to make travel plans to Canada, while U.S. drops controversial policy that would’ve led to student deportations

Last week we told you about some new temporary measures from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada that would make it easier for international students to pursue their Canadian study programs online and allow those study hours to be applied towards eligibility for a work permit after graduation. (See July 17 update for details.) Now, IRCC is asking many international students not to come to Canada to study until pandemic-related travel bans have been eased.

The Toronto Star reports that guidelines for Canada’s study permit program were updated this week to advise students whose study permits were approved after the border closure on March 18 that they shouldn’t make plans to travel to Canada and won’t be allowed to enter the country. The update notes that border agents will decide whether a permit-holder’s travel is discretionary or non-discretionary on a case-by-case basis at the point of entry. This also applies to students whose study permits were approved before or on March 18 (these permit-holders had previously been exempted from travel bans). Some of the aspects that border agents will consider include whether or not the traveller is “established, residing and studying in Canada”; if the student is required to be physically present for labs or other aspects of their programs; and if online studies are not possible in the student’s home country because of internet restrictions or bandwidth limits.

The Star notes that some postsecondary institutions, like the University of Saskatchewan, have advised international students who will be travelling to have a letter from the school administration confirming that their presence is required on campus.

In related news from the United States, the Trump administration has changed a controversial policy that would have required international students already in the country to leave or transfer schools if their program was going to be delivered online only this year. The rule would’ve put thousands of students at risk of deportation. Several universities, including Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, brought lawsuits against the federal government, arguing that the new directive would put student safety at risk and lead to significant financial losses for postsecondary institutions. Immigration authorities dropped the new rule last week.

Student group calls on feds to scrap Canada Student Service Grant and reallocate funds

The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations is asking the federal government to cancel the Canada Student Service Grant, estimated at around $900 million, and redistribute that money to programs that will directly support postsecondary students. To say that the much-delayed CSSG, which was announced in April as a means to financially support students through the summer, has been mired in controversy would be an understatement – the circumstances leading to the third-party administration of the program by WE are now subject to an ethics investigation and a scandal for the Trudeau government.

“The goal for the Government of Canada should be to get support to students as quickly as possible in an efficient and effective manner. The CSSG is coming too late for students to fully take advantage of the program, so it is time for the government to re-evaluate where best to support students with $900M of existing money,” says Bryn de Chastelain, CASA chair, in a press release.

In a similar vein, the Canadian Federation of Students has teamed up with the Don’t Forget Students campaign to create a petition demanding that the federal government reallocate CSSG funds to expand and extend the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, and to fill gaps in tuition relief plans. More than 700 people have signed the petition as of Thursday morning.

Universities in Atlantic bubble prepare for residence move-in

Earlier this month, the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador created the Atlantic Provinces Travel Bubble. The bubble allows for residents of these provinces to travel within the Atlantic region without needing to self-isolate for 14 days after crossing a provincial border. Travellers coming from outside the bubble must adhere to the self-isolation period. To help students navigate this rule and start their fall classes on time, postsecondary institutions are asking them to come to campus early.

Mount Allison Univeristy in Sackville, N.B., is starting a staggered move-in for campus residences on August 14, which includes airport shuttles, meal deliveries, sanctioned outdoor activities and virtual orientations programs. (The university has also provided useful tips for students living off campus on how to prepare for the quarantine period.) The Telegraph-Journal and Toronto Star report that the town has agreed to let the institution use a municipal ice rink as a student welcome centre. St. Thomas University in Fredericton, and the University of Moncton are also adapting their move-in schedules to accommodate students’ self-isolation needs. Acadia University in Woflville, N.S., will welcome students back to campus residences from September 2 to 20. The University of Prince Edward Island says it is “working on a plan to support students who will be required to self-isolate for 14 days as they return to PEI.” It will likely have an update as it enters phase three of its re-opening plan on August 3.

Canadian Mennonite University confirms in-person fall semester

This September, Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg will be one of the few postsecondary institutions in Canada to offer an in-person fall term. The university confirmed its plans for both fall and winter terms on July 15.

“CMU will hold on-campus, in-person classes in fall and winter terms 2020-21, with hybrid extensions available through online tools. Hybrid courses include both in-class work (in-person: seminar, discussion, workshop, lecture; and online: synchronous video and pre-recorded lecture materials), and out-of-class work (assignments to be completed, singularly, or in groups).”

Students can request online-only course attendance under specific circumstances. On July 31, the university will post a manual for returning to campus “including a community covenant to which students commit to the health and safety of all.”

Manitoba is also asking for travellers from abroad and from Eastern Canada to self-isolate for 14 days. CMU is offering students free accommodations and meal delivery during their quarantine period.

July 17, 2020

Federal government eases rules for international students studying online

On Tuesday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada announced additional measures, including faster and easier study permit processing, to make it easier for international students to study online with a Canadian postsecondary institution this fall from abroad.

The new measures include:

  • providing priority study-permit processing for students who have submitted a complete application online, to ensure that permits are processed as quickly as possible;
  • allowing students to count the time spent pursuing their studies online abroad toward their eligibility for a post-graduation work permit, if they have submitted a study permit application and if at least half of their program is completed in Canada;
  • providing reassurances to international students who cannot submit all of the documentation needed to complete processing of their applications, and who choose to pursue programs through distance learning, by implementing a temporary two-stage approval process.

The minister for IRCC, Marco Mendicino, said the changes will give students more certainty about their ability to enter Canada once travel and health restrictions are eased within Canada and their own home countries. “They mean that students will be eligible to work in Canada after graduation, even if they need to begin their studies online from overseas this fall,” he said.

These measures are in addition to changes made by IRCC in mid-May easing rules for international study permits. According to the Reuters, Canada issued 30,785 study permits in May to new foreign students, up 11 percent from 27,810 permits in May 2019. IRCC estimates that international students contributed $21.6 billion to Canada’s GDP and supported nearly 170,000 jobs in 2018. Nearly 54,000 people who studied at Canadian institutions as international students became permanent residents in 2018.

Stage 2 of research continuity fund opens

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council announced on Wednesday that Stage 2 of the Canada Research Continuity Emergency Fund is now open. The federal government announced the creation of the CRCEF on May 15 as part of a suite of temporary financial aid programs to help employers and workers through financial challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund is administered by SSHRC on behalf of the three main federal research granting agencies.

The program, which has a total budget of $450 million, provides wage support to universities and health research institutions to help them retain research-related personnel during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, and helps with the costs associated with maintaining essential research during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ramping back up to full research activities as physical distancing measures are eased and research activities can resume.

PISA postponed

An email has been sent to the media, including University Affairs, announcing that OECD member countries have decided to postpone the next two PISA surveys due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students will now take the test in 2022, not 2021, and the results will be published in December 2023. The following PISA survey will then be published in 2026, not 2025.

PISA, or the Programme for International Student Assessment, measures 15-year-olds’ abilities in reading, mathematics and science. Many countries rely on PISA results as a guide to how their educational systems are doing relative to other nations. In the latest survey, from 2018, students in Canada scored higher than the OECD average in all three areas.

July 14, 2020

More mandatory mask policies

We reported on July 3 that Brock University apparently became the first university in Canada to mandate the wearing of face coverings within all indoor campus spaces, as of July 1. The policy has now spread (pun intended) to at least a half-dozen other Ontario campuses, including the University of Toronto, York University, McMaster University, Western University, Ontario Tech University and Carleton University. In some cases, the universities are responding to local public health authority directives. Some of the universities have also indicated that they will supply university-branded masks for those who don’t have a mask of their own. For instance, York reports that its non-medical mouth and nose coverings are “red in colour with the York logo in white,” and will be available in packs of two to any approved York community member, including staff, faculty, instructors, researchers and students.

Quebec universities will also soon be required to have mandatory mask policies, following the announcement yesterday by Premier François Legault that face coverings will be required in all indoor public spaces across the province beginning Saturday, July 18. “It’s better to wear a mask than to be confined at home,” said the Quebec premier in making the announcement Monday afternoon. “It’s not fun wearing a mask, but it’s essential.” The policy applies to everyone aged 12 and up. Université de Sherbrooke got a jump on the new directive, announcing its own mandatory mask policy on July 9, although that policy wasn’t scheduled to go into effect until August 10.

Several other universities across the country are recommending the wearing of masks, but are not making it obligatory. Emily Carr University of Art & Design, for example, says students will be provided with a non-medical fabric mask and “everyone is asked to wear a mask to protect one another when physical distancing is not possible.”

A liability waiver at StFX

St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, is requiring all students to sign a liability waiver by August 1, indemnifying the university for any loss or injury resulting from COVID-19. The waiver, sent to students on July 9, reads in part, “I am aware of the COVID-19 risks at StFX and the COVID-19 risks that result from participating in StFX activities, and I freely accept and fully assume all such … risks and the possibility of loss, personal injury, illness, death, damage, and expense resulting therefrom.” Students who do not sign the waiver will have their student account suspended and will be unable to return to campus in September.

Many students have expressed their anger at the new requirement. According to the Chronicle Herald, at least 349 students and staff signed an open letter sent on Monday to StFX president Andrew Hakin, saying they were “appalled and disappointed by the waiver” and that the terms laid out in it are “unconscionable and unacceptable.”

In response to the growing backlash, Dr. Hakin sent a letter to members of the school community in which he wrote, “To be clear, the waiver, by no means, absolves the university of doing everything it can to meet the standards expected by public health. …  The safety of our students, faculty and staff, as well as the wider community remains our top priority as we prepare for September.”

The effects of the pandemic on women researchers

Our regular contributor Diane Peters recently reported on the concerns by women researchers that the pandemic is squeezing their research productivity. A recent article by University of Lethbridge researchers in the journal EMBO Reports also chronicles the growing gulf between researchers who are active parents, women in particular, and those who are not. The article, entitled “Parenting researchers — an invisible divide,” was authored by researchers H.J. Wieden and Ute Kothe, along with graduate student Luc Roberts.

“The current structure of the academic system – funding, publishing incentives and career options – disadvantages parents and women in particular,” says Dr. Wieden in an article on the U of Lethbridge website. “The present pandemic deepens the already existing divide between parenting researchers and their peers without such obligations. In the long run, this will negatively affect recruiting and retaining junior researchers and maintaining a diverse talent pool.”

The authors call for a complete overhaul of the academic system as it is currently constructed. “Now is the time to completely rethink the academic system,” they argue. “It is critical that we analyze the effects of the pandemic on parenting researchers and trainees and seize the opportunity to thoroughly revamp the academic system and not simply go back to the old routine once it is over.”

July 8, 2020

COVID cases traced to student-visa holder and students entering P.E.I. may soon quarantine in hotels

Three cases of COVID-19 in Prince Edward Island have been traced back to a man in his 20s who travelled to Canada on a student visa in June. The man flew from the United States to Toronto and on to Halifax, but was ultimately denied entry to Prince Edward Island, where he had intended to study, because he lacked a pre-approval from the province’s Emergency Measures Organization. (It also seems he had yet to enrol with one of the province’s postsecondary institutions.) While in Nova Scotia, however, that student had contact with a P.E.I. resident who ultimately contracted the disease from the international traveller before returning to the island. According to P.E.I.’s public health officer, both of the men either had very mild symptoms or were asymptomatic.

On Tuesday, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King said the province is looking into booking hotel rooms to house out-of-province and international students during their 14-day self-isolation upon entering the province. The provincial government would pay for the temporary accommodations and work with the University of Prince Edward Island and Holland College to stagger the students’ arrivals in 150-person cohorts. According to the Cape Breton Post, 114 returning students have so far applied for entry to P.E.I. and to date, more than 80 have been permitted entry.

An update on face masks

More universities in Ontario are making face masks mandatory for indoor spaces, with the University of Toronto temporarily requiring them as of July 7. The regulation comes shortly after the City of Toronto voted to make masks a requirement for anyone in a public space where physical distancing isn’t possible.

Last month, a group of Canadian scientists and physicians working under the banner Masks4Canada wrote a public letter to federal and provincial authorities to “respectfully request” that they consider mandating face masks in their jurisdictions. The Globe and Mail clarifies that the group doesn’t want a one-size-fits-all approach to masking requirements, but that they should be mandatory “in areas with high population density and where there’s community spread of COVID-19.” The Globe also lists several reasons why many politicians or public health authorities may be weary of such a measure, including how to ensure equitable access to face masks for anyone who needs one, what to do for those who cannot wear a face mask, and how and when they should be worn.

Whatever comes of that appeal from the scientific community, it’s clear that for many of us, face masks are now a part of our daily lives. As temperatures rise around the country, here are some suggestions from David Price, McMaster University’s chair of family medicine, on how to make mask-wearing a more comfortable experience.

An update on course delivery

Hundreds of students in Ontario will return to college and university campuses this month to resume coursework. The students are part of a pilot project the province announced in June to help students in trades, health care and other practical programs who were “stranded” last term when classes shifted online, leaving some without any alternatives for the hands-on learning required by their course of study (see the June 11 update on this page).

Meanwhile, universities continue to solidify their plans for the fall term, with most suggesting it’ll be a hybrid learning – mostly online with some possibility for in-person activities. Redeemer University, for one, announced that it is “preparing for dual-delivery this fall by investing in classroom technology.” Students may opt for remote or in-person learning, with that choice applying to all courses the student takes. The university will provide face masks or other personal protective equipment to students, faculty and staff when it is required. The university announced back in late April that it was planning for in-person, on-campus courses in September (see update posted April 27), so the shift to dual delivery is notable.

At Carleton University, president Benoit-Antoine Bacon noted that the institution is now looking ahead to winter 2021:

“We remain hopeful that it will be possible to welcome some students back to campus in January; however, it seems very unlikely that the pandemic will have fully resolved by then. … Even if public health restrictions are eased such that some face-to-face instruction could resume, many students may not be able – or may not be comfortable – returning to campus. We will need to ensure that winter 2021 courses are developed in a manner that will allow them to be delivered to our students who will be taking them remotely.”

Many universities south of the border, where the pandemic rages on, are making more firm pronouncements about the next winter term. Harvard University recently announced that all courses for 2020-21 will take place online, and a limited number of students will be permitted to move into campus residences.

Trent restarts in-person campus tours

Now that summer is here and Ontario is in the process of reopening, Trent University is once again offering tours of its Peterborough campus to prospective students. The 90-minute tours are pre-booked and capped at eight people. All participants are required to keep an appropriate distance and wear face masks while touring buildings, including the university’s new student centre.

Something nice – a yeehaw for online square dances

Square dance clubs have refused to let the pandemic box them out of their favourite pastime. By dosey doe-ing their dance clubs over to Zoom, they’ve even managed to make some exciting new partnerships with clubs around the world. The University of Calgary published an interview with sociologist Liza McCoy and Barbara Schneider, a professor emerita of communication, media and film at U of C, who are not only documenting the rise of online square dance clubs, but joining in.

July 6, 2020

Classes at U de Sherbrooke to take place outside, in concert venue and religious spaces

Le Devoir reports that about 20 departments at Université de Sherbrooke plan on offering 40-100 percent of their courses in person this fall. In order to fit this number of students in a properly distanced way, the university in Quebec’s Eastern Townships is seeking out non-traditional classroom spaces, including 12 outdoor sites on campus that could hold up to a 100 people each, a campus performance venue, plus four off-campus buildings: a convent, two churches and a cathedral.

McMaster asks landlords to give student renters a break in exchange for free housing listings

As a way of helping students who rent accommodations off campus, McMaster University’s housing and conference services has created Student First Rentals. The program encourages landlords to offer McMaster students flexible lease terms, rent reductions and thorough cleaning arrangements in exchange for a free, two-month premium ad on the university’s housing listing site. More than 20 landlords have already participated in the program.

“We welcome any landlords willing to provide considerate leasing terms which prioritize the health of our students and recognize the financial hardship and uncertainty as a result of COVID-19 to apply, and encourage students looking for properties to consider a Student First Rental,” says housing director Kevin Beatty.

Hundreds call for mandatory masks at UTM

Last week, Brock University apparently became the first university in Canada to require face masks be worn by anyone entering campus buildings. Now, hundreds of people are hoping that the University of Toronto Missisauga will follow Brock’s lead. More than 300 people have signed a petition created by UTM PhD student Rebecca Rook, who’s asking the university to “take steps to ensure our health and safety as we begin the process of reopening the university” by making face masks and physical distancing mandatory for anyone working on campus.

Ms. Rook told the CBC that she created the petition after returning to campus a few days a week following Ontario’s Phase 1 reopening and noting that “it doesn’t seem to be running very differently compared to pre-pandemic.”

July 3, 2020

A quick note from the editorial staff at University Affairs before jumping into our first COVID-19 update for July: since March 12, UA has been publishing updates on the pandemic and the Canadian higher-ed sector nearly every day. Starting this month, we’ll be taking a more flexible approach to publishing these updates, with the aim of posting three times a week to this page. Thank you for your continued readership – and if there’s anything we’ve missed, please let us know by emailing nsamson@univcan.ca.

Controversy erupts – and quickly flames out – around student volunteer platform

The long-awaited Canada Student Service Grant has been mired in controversy pretty much since it was officially launched by the federal government on June 25. The program, which includes a one-time grant between $1,000 and $5,000 as well as a platform called I Want to Help, is intended to connect postsecondary students and recent graduates with volunteer opportunities in the not-for-profit sector during the pandemic. It turns out the federal government awarded the contract to administer the grant program to WE Charity, a non-profit that counts both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau as volunteers and supporters. NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus told the Globe and Mail that the decision to outsource managing more than $900 million in federal funds to WE “stinks of cronyism” and he worried that the charity would not be subject to federal Access to Information policies. After a few days of intense criticism, the government announced today that it has pulled out of the contract with WE.

Antibody testing to start this summer

The federal government’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force will soon reach a new milestone. The task force, 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, was struck in April with the goal of connecting experts in academia and public health to undertake a large blood-testing program to better understand COVID-19 immunity. Late last month, Canadian Blood Services told the Toronto Star that it had been saving samples from blood donations over the past several months and that it would begin testing them for COVID-19 antibodies in the coming weeks.

“The antibody tests don’t show whether someone has COVID-19, like the nasal swab tests. They instead show whether someone has had it in the past and recovered. Canadian Blood Services will also test donors going forward, to help the task force get to the goal of at least 1 million samples. Héma-Québec, the non-profit that supplies blood in Quebec, will also support the project, a spokesperson confirmed.”

The testing will contribute to research being carried out by the Immunity Task Force over the next two years.

Masks mandatory on Brock campus

Brock University got the jump on Canada’s most populous city this week by announcing on Monday that masks would be mandatory for anyone entering campus buildings as of July 1. Employees working in single-occupancy offices won’t be required to keep the face coverings on, though they will be required when keeping two metres of physical space between individuals is not possible. The university will provide masks at no cost. (The university decision may have pre-empted a municipal bylaw – St. Catharines city council will meet on Monday to vote on a mandatory mask measure.)

June 29, 2020

Canada Research Continuity Emergency Fund deadline extended

On May 15, the federal government created the Canada Research Continuity Emergency Fund (CRCEF) as part of a suite of temporary financial aid programs to help employers and workers through financial challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government will provide universities and health-research institutions with $450 million for wage relief for research personnel and to help reduce costs associated with maintaining and ramping up essential research activities.

CRCEF is a tri-agency program administered by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. On Friday, the three granting councils’ websites went down and weren’t accessible again until Sunday. Because of the extended website outage, the tri-agency have extended the CRCEF phase one deadline to July 7.

A new tool from U of T for spotting COVID-19 misinformation

UA has been publishing regular COVID-19 updates since mid-March and we can attest to the fact that there’s a torrent of new information and research findings released about the novel coronavirus and SARS-CoV-2 pretty well every day. It’s hard to keep up and it’s hard to know which findings are significant, which are not quite what they seem and which of them will actually turn out to be important in the grand scheme of this pandemic. In response to the huge amount of information generated around COVID-19, Vincci Lui, a librarian at the University of Toronto’s Gerstein Science Information Centre, has createdHow can I spot misinformation about the coronavirus and COVID-19?” The site offers tips and links to several resources to quickly and easily fact-check information you may come across on social media, in the news or by word of mouth.

International student update

The Canadian Bureau for International Education will host its first online symposium tomorrow, June 30. The theme is “Reimagining Internationalization in a COVID-19 World” and the day-long event will feature speakers from all levels of the education sector discussing lessons learned and how to move the international education portfolio forward while the pandemic keeps borders closed. The symposium will conclude with an update on international mobility policies and procedures from Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada. Registration is still open.

In the past few weeks, several news outlets have published stories about the difficulties that international students and former international students are facing in Canada. A notable challenge for recent graduates making use of the post-graduate work permit – a program that can be a pathway to permanent resident status – has been finding sustained work in fields that are relevant to their studies. In less than a month, a petition asking the minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to “offer reasonable accommodation through an extension of the post-graduate work permit time limit to international graduates who[se] work experience accumulation was negatively impacted by COVID-19″ has received nearly 2,800 signatures.

Meanwhile, the Migrant Rights Network and Migrant Students United have been asking the federal government for months to offer protections and aid to international students who are weathering the pandemic in Canada. They’ve petitioned the government for guaranteed access to health care, income support (international students are excluded from the Canada Emergency Student Benefit), extended work permits (including an extension of the postgraduate work permit), automatic permanent resident status, financial aid for living expenses and tuition. That petition has received more than 11,700 signatures. Last week, Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough said that her office has been working with Immigration and the higher-ed sector to figure out how best to support this student population.

And prospective international students are now a step closer to getting to Canada. Over the weekend, CIC News reported that Canadian Visa Application Centres continue to reopen around the world. These centres collect visa applicant biometric information (fingerprints and photos) and administer the secure transmission of applicant information and documentation. As with most government service offices, these centres have been largely closed throughout the pandemic, but some are now operating with limited services, including centres in China and France. However, processing centres remain closed in some countries that provide a significant number of international students to Canada, including India. The PIE News reports that there’s also a petition circulating from prospective students in India asking for Immigration to make student visa processing in that country a priority.

Something nice – celebrating Black excellence in health care

Echogram is a collaboration between three of medical students at the University of Toronto and University of British Columbia who have joined forces to make digital portraits of health-care professionals with all proceeds going to the Frontline Fund, a national initiative to support Canadian hospitals. Not only are these med students using art to shine a spotlight on some health-care heroes while raising emergency funds, they’ve recently taken to raising awareness around the experiences and achievements of Black health-care professionals in Canada. The artists have teamed up with U of T’s Black Medical Students Association to create a portrait series featuring Black health-care workers and students. A recent portrait in the #BlackExcellence series celebrates Onye Nnorom, a family physician, president of the Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario, and a professor with U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and faculty of medicine.

 

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Meet @dr.o.nnorom! We’re excited to have Dr. Nnorom as our 4th feature of @echo.grams x @uoftbmsa ✨ #BlackExcellence ⠀ Dr. Nnorom wears many wonderful hats… she is a family doctor & public health specialist, the President of the Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario, a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and in the Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Family and Community Medicine, a mother, and a dancer 💓 Her passion is teaching health impacts of racism – She hosts a podcast called “Race, Health & Happiness.” Dr. Nnorom hopes the podcast will help all listeners understand the issues racialized people face 🌎 ⠀ ➡️ Swipe to read more on what Dr. Nnorom has done in advocacy for racial equality ➡️ ⠀ Visit echogram.ca to see how you can order your very own portrait or one for someone else! All that is needed is a donation to @the_frontline_fund or @taibu_chc to get your echogram! 🏥💌 ⠀ Individual portraits are minimum $20, couples portraits are minimum $35, and family portraits are minimum $40! More details on echogram.ca 💌 ⠀ Let’s continue to celebrate all the healthcare heroes – and of course, kick this pandemic’s butt! 🏥💌🩺 ⠀ #weareinthistogether ⠀ #healthcare #healthcareheroes #frontline #frontlinehero #fighter #canada #hardwork #nurse #nurses #doctor #doctors #physicianassistant #medicine #medical #art #portrait #draw #donate #charity #covid19 #covid_19 #blacklivesmatter #blackexcellence

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June 26, 2020

COVID-19 research gets $109M boost from CIHR

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research has revealed the results of its latest round of COVID-19 pandemic-related research funding. This round of rapid response funding will distribute $109 million from federal and provincial departments to 139 projects across the country. In a press release, CIHR says that more than a quarter of the teams funded by this round of the program will collaborate with colleagues outside of Canada. “Many of these collaborations involve researchers in lower and middle-income countries where the greatest need exists for support in the pandemic. By helping curb the virus overseas, these Canadian researchers will contribute to global health while protecting safety at home.”

According to the Globe and Mail, this round of funding, which launched on April 23, received 1,488 proposals. Among the successful applicants, 44 percent are women. Here’s a snapshot of some of the researchers and projects that were funded in this latest competition:

  • Eduardo L. Franco, the James McGill Professor and chair of the department of oncology at McGill University, will is leading a team researching the long-term impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on cancer prevention, screening and care. Their aim is to design “evidence-driven mitigation strategies.”
  • Jessie-Lee McIsaac, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Early Childhood: Diversity and Transitions, and Joan Turner, a professor of child and youth studies, at Mount Saint Vincent University, are looking into the health of young children in the Maritimes during COVID-19 and how various policy decisions have impacted young families.
  • Mohan Babu, an associate professor of biochemistry at the University of Regina, is investigating the therapeutic and diagnostic gaps associated with COVID-19, including the lack of licensed vaccines and continued shortages of reliable testing.
  • Gabriel Fabreau, assistant professor and in the departments of medicine and community health sciences at the University of Calgary, will lead a study on the COVID-19 outbreak at the Cargill meat processing plant in Calgary and its impacts on immigrant populations.
  • Josephine Etowa, a professor in the school of nursing at the University of Ottawa, leads a study into improving the health system’s response to the African, Caribbean and Black communities during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Corinne Hohl, associate professor in the department of emergency medicine at the University of British Columbia, is developing a national standard for data collection, assessment and treatment protocols for COVID-19 in emergency departments, called the ED Network

At the time this update was published, CIHR’s website was down but a full list of winning proposals should be available on the agency’s website once it’s back up.

Prior to yesterday’s announcement from CIHR, the agency had invested $55.3 million in rapid response funding to some 100 projects addressing COVID-19.

Will 2020-21 be the year eSports get their due?

With most varsity sport cancelled for the upcoming academic year, 2020-21 could be the year for eSports to take their place in the spotlight on the collegiate athletics scene. The University of Windsor recently announced the creation of an official university eSports (competitive video gaming) team, which will join the Ontario Post-Secondary Esports network when it launches this fall. While an officially sanctioned competetive university eSports team is rare in Canada, several universities have had eSports clubs and arenas for some time. In January, the University of Toronto announced that a donor had even funded a new eSports scholarship for students in the faculty of applied science and engineering.

Something nice – university president moonlights as degree-delivery runner

 A hearty hat tip to Academica Top Ten for bringing this one to our attention: several students at Mount Allison University got their degrees hand-delivered by university president Jean-Paul Boudreau during his regular run.

“Boudreau reached 18 students and covered roughly 20K on his run. There was a van following him with the degrees and his president’s gowns – so he could take an official picture with the graduates. The president laughs that some students didn’t know he was running and was asking why he was sweaty. ‘It felt good to do something special for this class.’”

June 25, 2020

Feds launch long-awaited volunteer platform for students

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the official launch of the Canada Student Service Grant and a volunteer database during his pandemic briefing today. Plans for the CSSG and database, called I Want to Help, were first mentioned on April 22 with the announcement of the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (see the update published April 23 for more details). With two months to go before the start of fall term at most universities, the federal government has clarified how students can take advantage of this program to find paid work during the summer months.

“The CSSG will provide these volunteers with a one-time payment of between $1,000 and $5,000 based on the number of hours they serve. To find not-for-profit organizations looking for help during the pandemic, postsecondary students and recent graduates can use the new I Want to Help platform, which also launched today,” the Prime Minister’s Office explained in a press release following the briefing.

The April announcement about emergency aid for students also included a commitment to create work placements for students. To fulfill that commitment, today the government promised:

  • $186 million of new funding for the Student Work Placement Program for 20,000 placements in “high-demand sectors”;
  • more than $60 million in new funding to create 10,000 new jobs for young people between 15 and 30 years old through Canada Summer Jobs, a wage-subsidy program for employers who hire students during the summer months;
  • $40 million to Mitacs to develop 5,000 new internships for college and university students at small- and medium-sized businesses
  • $40 million in new funding to Digital Skills for Youth, a wage-subsidy program that helps recent postsecondary graduates gain professional experience;
  • $34 million of additional funds for 3,500 new job placements and internships in sectors such as health, community services and information technology through the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy;
  • $6.7 million for Computers for Schools Plus, which refurbishes donated computers and devices to schools, libraries, not-for-profit organizations, Indigenous communities and low-income Canadians while also offering paid work for students;
  • 5,000 to 10,000 new work-integrated learning opportunities through the Business + Higher Education Roundtable.

Universities address revenue shortfalls through layoffs, tuition increases

Several universities have recently made public that they will be taking drastic measures in the face of forecasted losses in revenue while shouldering new costs related to the pandemic.

According to the CBC, the University of Winnipeg anticipates a $11.3-million loss in revenues “stemming from both the pandemic’s impact and the already announced 3.7 percent cut in grant funding from the province.” The university will address this shortfall through targeted hiring freezes, and cutbacks on travel spending, supplies, security and on-campus services. Most significantly, the university will increase tuition by about 3.75 percent this fall.

Cape Breton University has taken similar measures, cancelling all work-related travel, reducing operational expenditures by about $2 million, and implementing several human resources related decisions, including laying off some 60 term employees, cancelling raises for non-union employees this year, a wage rollback of up to 10 percent for some non-union employees and senior administration, and temporary layoffs of nearly 40 non-faculty unionized and non-unionized staff. CBU will increase tuition and fees for 2020-21 by $24 per course while certain student fees will be waived.

The University of Saskatchewan has fired 14 full-time staff members in the research office. This is in addition to previous terminations of 40 permanent positions. It also temporarily laid off 315 employees over 12 weeks, most of them unionized staff members. The CBC reports that Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, will lay off or reduce work hours for 52 employees.

Yesterday, Dalhousie University released a fiscal update for the 2020-21 school year. In the statement, senior administrators characterized the fall enrolment situation as “volatile” and outlined scenarios for the year that envisions a potential decline in tuition revenue of up to $37.8 million with another $12.1 million decline in revenue in certain faculties and units and in ancillary revenue. The university said it would use $12.2 million in reserve funds to reduce the operating deficit to $18.3 million.

The update clarifies what the university will continue to fund – student bursaries, inclusion initiatives, international outreach, among others – as well as what will take a hit: all senior administrators and non-unionized employees will be subject to a salary freeze; work sharing for facilities staff; faculties and service units have been asked to find 2 percent in savings for a total of $6.1 million in reduced costs; facilities and maintenance costs will be reduced by $10 million; as well as cuts to equipment, furniture and utilities budgets. More details are available in the fiscal update.

Students to return to StFX campus this September

St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, has joined the fray and released a statement about its upcoming fall session. Unlike most other universities in Canada, however, StFX isn’t betting on a hybrid term with courses taking place mostly online. In what Ken Steele calls “the most ambitious return to campus announced to date” by a Canadian university, the senior administration at StFX says it will indeed plan for some online courses, but it expects most courses will be carried out in person and on campus.

“For certain, it will take the effort of the entire community to ensure our collective health and safety. Therefore, new behavioural standards and expectations of our community have been developed and will be shared in the days and weeks ahead,” the statement reads. Some of the safety measures student are expected to follow is a two-week period of self-isolation for all out-of-province students, with those living off-campus required to submit “a health and travel declaration form” with the university’s student life office before coming to town and to check in with the university at a designated area before the start of term.

Nova Scotia has just marked its 16th day without a new case of-COVID-19. Since March 15, the province has seen a total of 1,061 cases.

Something nice – bagpiping through the pandemic

In our first “Something nice” item, published in our update on March 30, we told you that University of British Columbia president Santa Ono had been performing pieces on his cello and posting it to social media in the hopes of cheering up his followers. Not to be outdone, Brandon University president David Docherty has played a medley of traditional Scottish songs and popular music covers on his bagpipes in his driveway every Friday night as a way of showing his support for frontline workers. Dr. Docherty will wrap up his weekly performances with a special concert on Canada Day.

“We have been blessed with great weather throughout the spring, but it’s getting hotter, and even though I knew a few tricks to keep things cool in a kilt, Canada Day feels like a natural time for my finale,” he told Brandon U News. “Thank you to all who have helped me show support for frontline workers, for BU students, and for everyone who continues to do their part to flatten the curve and keep Manitoba safe.”

June 22, 2020

Quebec’s health minister shuffled to new higher-ed portfolio

Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann will soon be the province’s new minister responsible for postsecondary education. The move comes as part of a surprise cabinet shuffle announced today. CBC reports that Ms. McCann will share responsibility for the Education Ministry with current Education Minister Jean-François Roberge, who will continue to oversee primary and secondary education in the province. Christian Dubé, currently treasury board president, will take over as minister of health while the province continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Academic misconduct and the challenge of administering exams during a pandemic

In an interview with CBC Radio’s Radio Active, Brent Epperson, an ombudsman at the University of Alberta, says that some universities have seen an increase in academic misconduct – specifically plagiarism, cheating and data manipulation – during the pandemic. He attributes this in part to pandemic-related anxieties that students are currently experiencing – concerns about their health, their finances and their futures. But it’s also due to a lack of preparation and clarity on the part of postsecondary institutions about the expectations around online education and exams, he says. Dr. Epperson also anticipates that universities will review how they communicate with students about academic integrity specifically where online assignments and tests are concerned. One thing Dr. Apperson doesn’t recommend: mandatory minimum sanctions against students who have violated academic integrity policies.

Many universities have struggled in their efforts to move final exams online. In a story we published in late April, instructors said one of the most challenging aspects to adapting their exams has been the issue of proctoring: while virtual proctoring options exist, each one comes with significant drawbacks, including cost and privacy concerns. These issues recently came up at Wilfrid Laurier University, where math students were told they would need to have a standalone webcam and tripod setup in order to write their finals. Students pushed back against the expense and effort this new requirement would create and last week the university relented, reversing the webcam requirement.

Meanwhile, technical issues with a virtual proctoring system have plagued the qualifying exams that fourth-year medical students are required to pass before beginning a residency. Several students told CBC News that they encountered system errors and other issues while trying to complete the nine-hour Medical Council of Canada Qualifying Examination Part 1, which had been partially moved online due to COVID-19. One student reported being booted from the exam platform six times and that she ultimately rushed through the test out of fear she’d have to rebook the exam, which costs $1,300. One student said the system crashed before he could submit his test, while another student who required accommodations said she was initially offered a testing time that would require her to write the exam overnight. More than 7,000 students have registered to write the test with the Medical Council of Canada between June and September. While the MCC did offer a significant number of in-person testing options, one third of those students will take the exam online through Prometric, a U.S. company that administers texts online. The company blamed many of the issues on internet connectivity problems on the part of test-takers and remote proctors.

The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Canadian organization that runs the exam final-year medical residents must pass in order to become accredited doctors, has avoided the problems the MCC is now encountering by deferring their in-person exams until September – online exams were never even an option. The College decided to postpone the spring exams until the fall for several reasons, including in order to find additional testing venues that will allow test-takers to adhere to physical distancing measures. But this decision, too, has been met with criticism.

Government approved contact-tracing apps are coming next month

Canadian Digital Service and the Ontario Digital Service are leading the development of contact-tracing apps for mobile devices. The Logic reports that Ontario’s version will be available for download as of July 2. The federal government’s app, also set to launch in July, will be different from Ontario’s, though “both are based on COVID Shield, an open-source tool developed by a group of volunteers at Shopify.” Alberta has already released an app developed by Deloitte, which has been downloaded 186,000 times within its first three weeks.

In our COVID-19 update published on May 25, we noted that several researchers expressed concerns around contact-tracing apps and the possibility of privacy breaches. This week, a researcher at the University of Guelph said he has developed an app that improves the data collection and privacy practices of existing contact-tracing tools from which the government apps have been built.

Something nice – staff appreciation days at Carleton

Carleton University staff are getting an extra-long weekend to kick-start July. Following the statutory holiday on July 1, Carleton is giving (nearly) everyone the day off on July 2 and 3. In a note to staff, Carleton president Benoit-Antoine Bacon wrote that these “appreciation days” are the university administration’s way of thanking staff “for a great year under challenging circumstances.”

“Without your commitment, creativity and hard work, it would not have been possible to pivot with flexibility and compassion to complete the winter term, to quickly offer a fantastic summer term online, and to make appropriate plans towards a successful fall. THANK YOU!”

June 18, 2020

Feds boost funding for NSERC Discovery Grants

During the pandemic, the federal government has made significant amounts of new funds available to Canada’s tri-agencies for emergency research projects related to COVID-19. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the government will follow up those one-time investments with a more long-term commitment to funding scientific research in Canada by providing $500 million to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s Discovery Grant program.

During his regular pandemic update on Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau said the new funding will support “thousands of Canadian researchers and their groundbreaking work.” He added: “Researchers across the country make incredible discoveries every day, from rapid advances in understanding COVID-19 over the last few months to years-long studies of climate change and cancer treatments. It’s in everyone’s interest that they continue their vital work.”

In a press release from NSERC, Science Minister Navdeep Bains commended researchers for their work throughout the pandemic. “On behalf of the Government of Canada, I’d like to thank the country’s researchers for the hard work they continue to do at such a challenging time. With this support, we are investing in, and celebrating, the creativity and innovation that are at the heart of all research.”

News summary for international students, plus pre-COVID international student data from StatCan

SI News has published a round-up of recent immigration news and developments pertaining to international students coming to Canada. First and foremost, the publication advises incoming students to expect processing delays for study permits and other documents. The article is a handy, one-stop resource.

Also published this week is an analysis from Statistics Canada on international student enrolment numbers at Canadian postsecondary institutions prior to the pandemic. Among their findings: almost one-third of students enrolled in math, computer and information sciences were international students; one in five medical residents in subspecialties were international students; and that across most university programs, the majority of international students had come to Canada from China.

Overly optimistic timelines put vaccine researchers at risk: op-ed

A pair of immunologists from the University of Guelph are criticizing the accelerated timelines that some researchers are promising for the development of a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. In an opinion piece published by The Conversation Canada, Byram W. Bridle, an associate professor of viral immunology, and Shayan Sharif, a professor of immunology and associate dean of research and graduate studies, bemoan what they see as overly optimistic suggestions that a vaccine could be produced within 12 months. (Indeed, we reported on just such a prediction in Wednesday’s update.)

“We contend that a safe and effective vaccine against severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), which is the causative agent of coronavirus disease COVID-19, most likely cannot be made available to the public in time to make a substantial difference to the natural outcome of this pandemic,” write Drs. Bridle and Sharif. “[We] worry that some in the scientific community have offered too much hope for this to be accomplished in a timely fashion. Sometimes these promises are used by politicians and governments to inform public policies. As a result, the integrity of the scientific community is now in the limelight and, arguably, at risk.”

How recruitment staff at Queen’s pivoted during the pandemic

An article about student application numbers in the Queen’s Gazette offers some insight into how student recruitment teams transitioned their work from in-person recruitment fairs and school visits to virtual activities. This winter and spring, the bulk of recruitment work happened through webinars, Instagram Live Q&As and other social media campaigns, targeted web content, email campaigns, video calls and a “Class of 2024” website.

Something nice – Connection Circles keep students close

As courses shifted online, several Indigenous students in health fields at the University of Calgary felt a loss of connection to their support networks. In response to these concerns, staff and mentors with the Alberta Indigenous Mentorship in Health Innovation Network and the Traditional Knowledge Keepers in Residence program developed Connection Circles. Every Friday, two to three Elders guide about 20 people (students, faculty and staff members) through prayers, storytelling and guidance-seeking. According to one participant, the virtual sharing circles are “something I didn’t realize I needed until I joined in. This platform has allowed me time to reflect on how I was feeling and to shift focus onto positive ways to cope during the pandemic.”

June 17, 2020

University libraries offer curbside pickup

Several university libraries have started offering curbside pickup service for materials. In most cases, patrons request an item through the library’s online catalogue. When it becomes available library staff will check out the item on behalf of the student, faculty or staff member and leave it for pick up in a designated area. The University of Ottawa is touting this new service as part of the institution’s efforts to “remobilize” research activities on campus. The University of Guelph will add a mail-based delivery option in addition to curbside pickup starting on June 22. Carleton University will also offer mailing services, though it’s pickup option will see library staff wheeling out carts to borrower’s parked in designated areas. Queen’s University offered a pick-up service limited to urgent research needs and has since expanded it to the wider university community. The University of Toronto has outlined the health and safety measures borrowers are expected to adhere to when collecting their items through the contactless pickup option, which includes using sanitizer stations at the entrance and exit, following a one-way traffic route and arriving at a designated time.

And it’s not just universities in Ontario offering this service; curbside pickup options are now (or will soon be) on offer at Dalhousie University, the University of Alberta, the University of New Brunswick and the University of Prince Edward Island, among others.

Round-up of news from Quebec

Quebec residents and Canadians more generally are less stressed about the pandemic than our neighbours south of the border. An international team of researchers including faculty members from Université de Sherbrooke surveyed a total of 7,791 people from Canada, the United States, England, Switzerland, Hong Kong, the Philippines and New Zealand about the psychosocial impacts of pandemic messaging from media and governments from May 29 to June 12. They found that instances of depression among Canadians is three times higher than pre-pandemic depression rates. Still, Canadians are faring better than residents of the U.S., where COVID-19 rates and deaths are much higher.

However, the researchers noted significant variations between Canadian provinces, with Quebec’s anxiety rate measured at 13.1 percent, compared to 23.4 percent in Ontario and 19.7 percent for the rest of the country. Fewer Quebec residents report experiencing major depression (17 percent) than Ontarians (26.2 percent) and those living in the rest of Canada (21.3 percent) – and this despite the fact that Quebec has recorded the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the country. In a press release about the study, the research team suggests that the greater the sense of “coherence” in a community or region, the better residents fare psychologically during times of difficulty.

Quebec Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge announced this week that the province’s elementary and high school students will be back in the classroom this fall. The schools will operate at full capacity, with most students being grouped into six-person “bubbles” that won’t be required to follow physical distancing rules. Meanwhile, Quebec is following other provinces, including Ontario, by allowing postsecondary institutions to operate on a hybrid model, with courses running online and in-person when possible.

The province has opted for such different approaches between K-12 and higher-ed based on evidence that suggests coronavirus transmission between children is less of a concern. Richard Masse, an advisor to the Quebec Health Department, is quoted in a Canadian Press story:

“The risk between children and between children and adults is limited but it’s not absent,” Masse said. “That’s why we’re trying to limit the spread, and the use of bubbles … is first for limiting transmission, but also if there’s an outbreak, it’s much easier to control a small group or a class than controlling a whole school.”

A number of Quebec institutions pre-empted the government announcement and declared their intention to follow a hydrid approach this fall, including Université du Québec en Outaouais, HEC Montréal and Université de Montréal. In late May, the provincial government requested that postsecondary schools prepare scenarios that would see at least 30 percent of students return to campus.

U de Montréal has also recently announced a new partnership to accelerate research into treatments for COVID-19. The university and its Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer have teamed up with Génome Québec, Mila – Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute and McMaster University on a $1-million project. The research will combine genomics, artificial intelligence and “medicinal chemistry” to “discover new inhibitors of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19,” according to a press release from Génome Québec.

Something nice – UTSC gives restaurant owners a boost

Faculty and students with the BRIDGE, a research and innovation centre at the University of Toronto Scarborough, have teamed up with Centennial College’s school of hospitality, tourism and culinary arts for the Scarborough Restaurant Recovery Project. Together, they are working on a business improvement and multimedia storytelling initiative with food establishments in Scarborough. Three summer courses, as well as co-op and work-study students will all participate in the project, which aims at supporting businesses that have registered with an online delivery platform launched by Tourism Toronto. The students, staff and faculty will help participating food businesses register with a commission-free online ordering platform and help them develop free websites and online stores with ShopHERE.

June 16, 2020

Infectious disease expert expects vaccine for COVID-19 within months

Microbiologist Gary Kobinger, director of the centre for infectious disease research (Centre de recherche en infectiologie) at Université Laval, believes a vaccine for COVID-19 should be ready within months.

Dr. Kobinger shared this optimistic outlook during a virtual interview with Governor General Julie Payette on Friday. He mentioned that researchers have already learned a significant amount about the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in part because it’s a “cousin” to the coronavirus responsible for SARS (“the first SARS”). “Knowledge keeps building up at an amazing pace,” he said.

Vaccine development typically takes anywhere from 10 to 20 years because it requires many resources and time to confirm its efficacy and safety for human use. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus strain researchers are grappling with now, research is developing more quickly because they’re building on this existing SARS work, but also because governments and agencies around the world have made significant emergency funds and other resources available to the cause. As a result, Dr. Kobinger says more than 100 vaccine candidates are being developed globally. His team is largely working on a candidate in a not-for-profit environment, which is actually a much slower process, but is also contributing to vaccine research in the commercial sphere, too.

Students confused about federal benefits, are considering term deferrals and more: survey

The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations recently released survey results that offer a snapshot into students’ concerns during the pandemic. The survey was conducted in May with responses from 1,000 postsecondary students. Among the survey’s findings:

  • 52 percent said the support they are receiving from the federal government has been good or very good; however 47 percent reported that they are sure they are eligible for the Canada Emergency Student Benefit and 28 percent said they aren’t sure or aren’t eligible for any assistance programs;
  • 45 percent said they will be relying more on government loans to fund the upcoming academic year;
  • 41 percent have considered or have already delayed/deferred their fall semester;
  • 31 percent have considered or have already switched to part-time studies;
  • 43 percent reported that it is more difficult to complete assignments and exams online than it is in person, and 30 percent said it’s not as easy to access their classes online.

The executive summary and the full survey results are available on the CASA website.

N.S. institutions prepare for enrolment declines

The CBC published a story over the weekend detailing some of the ways that postsecondary schools in Nova Scotia are preparing for revenue shortfalls in the upcoming academic year. Some of the ways that “universities are tightening their purse strings” include: directed department heads to cut 30 percent from salary budgets for part-time faculty this fall semester across all departments at Mount Saint Vincent University; a pay freeze for senior managers and administrators at Saint Mary’s University; layoffs for casual employees a suspension of some summer hiring at St. Francis Xavier University.

Many institutions included in the piece expressed concerns around a decline in enrolment, with an especially significant drop expected in international student registrations. Most agree the reason for this would be a perceived loss in value with the shift to online-only learning.

Ont. MPP publishes letter to higher-ed minister asking for funding, reversal of cuts

One Ontario politician took to his local newspaper to make a case to the province’s minister of training, colleges and universities for a boost to postsecondary funding. Jamie West, the MPP for Sudbury and the provincial NDP’s labour relations act critic, published a letter in the Sudbury Star addressed to Ross Romano, the minister responsible for postsecondary education. In it, he makes a case not just for additional funding for institutions in his riding, but for a full reversal of previous budgetary decisions that led to sever cuts to the province’s higher education budget.

“I am writing to you about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the colleges and universities in my riding of Sudbury. The pandemic has placed an extra financial strain on our colleges and universities, which were already struggling to adjust to funding cuts made by your government last year. If the public postsecondary institutions in my riding do not receive additional funding and support to get through this pandemic, they may be forced to make difficult cuts that will harm our community. … In the most recent provincial budget, your government cut $700 million from Training, Colleges and Universities, and threatened to withhold as much as 60 percent of what is left if schools do not meet your criteria. I urge you to reverse these cuts and increase investment to our colleges and universities.”

Some of the institutions in the MPP’s riding include Laurentian University, Thorneloe University and Collège Boréal. Read the letter on the Sudbury Star website.

France opens borders to international students as of July

It looks like Canadian students hoping to study in France this year will get their chance after all. The country will be opening its borders to international students from anywhere in the world as of July 1. This decision comes despite the fact that France will take a more phased approach in easing border restrictions for all other types of visitors travelling from outside of the Schengen zone. France’s ministers of the interior and of European and international affairs released a joint press release announcing the new rules on June 12. According to the PIE News, the European Commission advocated that France, among some other European Union members, reopen to international travel as of July, with the processing of visas for international students considered a priority.

Something nice – McGill’s libraries crunch the numbers

Since March 13, the librarians at McGill University have, while working remotely, answered 3,980 reference questions; filled 1,447 inter-library load requests; received 900 purchase requests; and added 6,000 new items to their catalogues. A fuller accounting of services accessed can be found via this handy infographic:

The librarians also crunched the numbers on some of the most accessed services provided by external vendors. The top five most accessed databases and platforms among McGill library card holders are PubMed, UpToDate, Web of Science, Scopus and Kanopy. (And in case you were wondering, the most-streamed item on McGill’s Kanopy account is a seven-minute video called “Depression and Anxiety.”)

June 12, 2020

Researchers aim to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among farm workers

COVID-19 is spreading rapidly among agri-food workers in Canada, with migrant farm workers quickly making up the majority of the infected. According to the Globe and Mail, Ontario has already had several outbreaks on farms, with some 420 cases or probable cases reported and two deaths – Bonifacio Eugenio Romero, 31, and Rogelio Muñoz Santos, 24, both from Mexico. Migrant agricultural workers in B.C. tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this spring and this week, a farm in Quebec has struggled to contain an outbreak. At least one outbreak in Ontario has been attributed to community spread – meaning workers contracted the disease after arriving in Canada.

In response to the high risk COVID-19 poses to migrant workers in Canada, a group of academics, medical professionals, clinicians and social service workers have formed the Migrant Worker Health Expert Working Group and released a set of evidence-based recommendations for federal and provincial agencies. The group is recommending random and unannounced inspections of agricultural worksites and of employer-provided living quarters, protections and care for workers who get sick or who refuse unsafe work assignments, access to translation services for workers, among other things. The group has also launched a website with information on COVID-19 in English and Spanish.

“Under typical circumstances, migrant workers face challenges in accessing health care, including language and cultural considerations, but also fear of losing income, employment or the ability to stay in Canada,” said Janet McLaughlin, a member of the working group and an associate professor of health studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. “These challenges are only amplified during the pandemic. We must ensure that we overcome these barriers by providing truly accessible health care, as well as making structural changes to temporary foreign worker programs that promote workers’ empowerment and job security.”

CFI relaunches funding call

The Canadian Foundation for Innovation relaunched its an Exceptional Opportunities Fund (EOF) competition related to COVID-19 research after a false start last month. As we reported on May 29, the organization suspended its initial call for applications after receiving some critical feedback from researchers. As of June 8, the $25-million competition is back on.

The call for proposals states that CFI is looking to fund urgently needed equipment for research related to COVID-19. Institutions can apply for amounts ranging from $200,000 to $1.5 million. The deadline for proposals is July 6. Additional information is available on the CFI website.

CSPC hosts Q&A with NSERC president on Monday

On Monday, June 15, Canadian Science Policy Centre president and CEO Mehrdad Hariri will interview Alejandro Adem, president of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. The interview will address how Canadian research is contributing to the fight against COVID-19 and what NSERC is doing to support those projects. It will be livestreamed over Zoom at 12 p.m. EST. Registration is required.

CAUT calls on feds to extend wage subsidy

The Canadian Association of University Teachers is calling on the federal government to extend the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy to include public universities and colleges. As it stands, publicly funded institutions are ineligible for the subsidy, which is intended for not-for-profit organizations and private sector employers. Private education institutions may qualify for the subsidy, however.

“Universities and colleges, like other organizations, need financial support to retain and pay employees during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says CAUT executive director David Robinson in a statement posted to the group’s website. “Academics and staff are taking urgent steps to continue to conduct research and provide education. This vital work will be significantly hampered if institutions cannot retain employees and maintain operations throughout this crisis.”

Something nice – for the whole family

While working from home during the pandemic, a professor at the University of Regina has launched a podcast for kids by kids. Charity Marsh, a professor of creative technologies in the faculty of media, art, and performance, started a weekly community radio show and podcast called Imagine This! with daughters Aksel, 3, and Ilse, 6, and her partner Evie Ruddy. The one-hour show includes kids interviewing adults, family conversations, storytime, craft ideas, music and more.

The new show anchors a new three-hour block of kids programming on CJTR 91.3 FM, Regina’s community radio station.

June 11, 2020

ON to restart some in-person classes this summer

Yesterday, the Government of Ontario said that some postsecondary students will be heading back to class on campus as early as next month.

The voluntary return to in-person courses is part of a “phased” approach the government is taking to reopening postsecondary campuses. In a press release, the province noted that this first phase of the plan will “allow institutions to reopen to provide in-person instruction to students in essential, frontline, and high labour market demand areas, such as nursing, personal support workers, engineering, and other critical professions.” The resumption of courses is specifically aimed to help students who were “stranded” last term when classes shifted from campus to digital platforms and left some students in practical courses without alternatives for hands-on learning requirements.

The release further stated that phase one would act as a sort of soft opening for the coming fall term, and that the government was preparing a “framework” to guide campus health and safety protocols that will be sent to schools this week.

The Toronto Star reports that Ontario colleges will be participating in the reopening. In the article, Michael Conlon, executive director of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, expressed some concern around a universal approach, noting that the situation facing schools in one region of the province will be very different from that facing institutions in Toronto, for example. Ross Romano, the minister responsible for postsecondary education, said that students and faculty will be screened for COVID-19 before returning to campus, and that institutions will be required to maintain physical distancing rules and extra cleaning. He added that there will be training for peer mentors to help ensure distancing rules are followed.

As far as the fall term goes, the Globe and Mail reports that universities in Ontario are seeing a strong response to admissions offers despite the fact that most courses will take place online. The Globe says 103,426 offers of admission to domestic and international students have been confirmed, compared with 102,289 this time last year.

While these numbers suggest that the temporary shift to online learning might not scare off as many students as feared, the final impact of the shift won’t be clear until enrolment numbers are tallied this fall.

AB scraps budget clawback

For several weeks, publicly funded postsecondary institutions in Alberta have been decrying the province’s plan to force budget cuts. The schools had claimed that the funding clawbacks would be coming at a particularly difficult time as institutions struggle with unexpected expenses and adjust to expected revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic. This week, the provincial government announced it has axed the plan for budget reductions for this academic year.

“It would be in the best interest of our institutions – especially due to COVID and the impacts that we don’t know yet in respect to enrolment and revenue, what that’s going to look like – to make sure that they would be able to best manage that,” said Laurie Chandler, press secretary for the advanced education minister.

This news follows the province’s decision earlier this month to indefinitely postpone the rollout of a performance-based funding model.

Atlantic Canada responds to international students’ concerns

The Government of Prince Edward Island is relaunching an emergency fund for residents who don’t qualify for pandemic-related federal income supports like the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. International students in the province were among the 444 recipients of funding before the program closed in June. The province has decided to restart the fund, which offers a one-time payment up to $1,000. The province is prepared to disperse an estimate $573,000 in this second round of funding.

Several institutions on Canada’s East Coast have stepped up to support international students who are effectively stuck here due to travel restrictions or financial hardship. A story in PEI’s The Guardian newspaper illustrates some of the ways that schools and host families are showing up for international students, like helping them find off-campus housing.

Something nice – Trent’s “Grad From Your Pad”

Universities have been coming up with all kinds of creative ways to celebrate graduates this spring even as convocation ceremonies have been cancelled across the country. (Watch for a story about “convocation-in-a-box” in the July-August issue of University Affairs magazine – coming to your inbox in a few weeks!) But Trent University recently announced its plans to celebrate the class of 2020 and, we have to admit, it’s a pretty fun take.

On Saturday, Trent’s graduating cohort is invited to “Grad From Your Pad.” As part of the online festivities, graduating students have been sent an email with instructions on how to submit a video of their “stage walk.” The videos will be compiled and broadcast during the virtual ceremony.

June 10, 2020

PM addresses class of 2020

Instead of his usual pandemic update, today Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a sort of convocation address to graduating students. The prime minister was joined by four new or soon-to-be grads on campus at Carleton University in Ottawa for the Facebook Live broadcast.

Mr. Trudeau likened the situation facing the class of 2020 to that facing the class of 1939.

“In the face of unprecedented destruction, they chose to rebuild the world by rolling up their sleeves and pulling together. They built the institutions that carried us through the second half of the 20th century. They set the world on a path of more solidarity, more compassion, more understanding. They sacrificed a lot, they dreamed big, they world hard, they left us a world far better than they found it. The challenge facing the class of 2020 is not dissimilar. The choices you will make, both big and small, in the next few years, will decide the future of our country and of our world. I cannot think of a generation better prepared to set us on the right path forward. … You understand not just the value, but the power, of community better than most. And that’s why I trust you will be the 21st century’s greatest generation. You know what is wrong with the world and how to fix it. Your job is not only to challenge people like me, but to bring us along. … I know you got this. And so do you.”

Jordan Gray, a member of Carleton’s graduating class, was one of the students to introduce Mr. Trudeau before his address in English. With the prime minister sitting in view behind the podium, Mr. Gray noted that graduating during this particular moment in history will only serve to make the class of 2020 stronger.

“Graduating in a time that has set norms aside is to be tooled with the knowledge, resilience and audacity to address the crises of our current moment. From health to racism to climate, we graduates have been gifted with a new decade to write the next chapter of our country and of our world. … It is not always easy to succeed when discretion within the academy and beyond favours those who are not Black, not Indigenous, and not people of colour. And yesterday’s funeral for George Floyd was a reminder for Canada that the racism that manifested in George Floyd’s killing is often structurally supported by our own institutions. Let us take in the magnitude of this moment. Pause in reflection of our successes and then, on what is the beginning of this new decade, let us roll up our sleeves for we have much work to do.”

#ShutDownSTEM and #ShutDownAcademia

On that note, also today, many researchers and academics are acknowledging and protesting anti-Black racism in scientific and postsecondary institutions under the banners of #ShutDownSTEM and #ShutDownAcademia. Some are taking to the streets in protest, while many others are committing to spend time today reflecting on racism in these spaces and to organize action in support of equity and justice.

June 8, 2020

500,000 students have accessed federal assistance

In his COVID-19 briefing today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that 500,000 students accessed the Canada Emergency Student Benefit since the program launched on May 15. During the update, the prime minister also addressed the federal government’s actions on systemic racism, wage benefits, and cross-border family reunifications. You can watch the video via CPAC’s Twitter feed here.

Some varsity championships, including Vanier Cup, cancelled for 2020

U Sports, the body that regulates and administers varsity sports leagues and championships across 56 Canadian postsecondary institutions, has cancelled six championship games scheduled to take place this fall. The decision impacts cross country running, soccer, women’s rugby, women’s field hockey and football (including the national semifinals – known as the Mitchell and Uteck bowls – as well as the national final, the Vanier Cup).

In a statement posted to the U Sports website this afternoon, the organization explains that it came to the decision after considering ongoing “uncertainties with student-athlete health and safety, travel and public health restrictions that affect parts of the country and different curriculum delivery models being proposed on the campus of its 56 member universities.”

The organization has not ruled out the possibility of its leagues resuming in winter 2021.

New supports for Indigenous students in SK

The University of Saskatchewan announced last week that it has partnered with the Mastercard Foundation to provide immediate funding for supports to Indigenous students facing financial challenges due to the ongoing pandemic. The funding will go to technology and internet connectivity to improve access to remote learning, to mental health and wellness resources, to emergency funds for students and to the “enhancement and modification of existing wraparound supports.”

The foundation is also offering support to Indigenous students attending the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research and the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies.

SFU students pay tribute to lives lost to COVID-19

A group of undergraduate students at Simon Fraser University have launched a project to honour the victims of COVID-19. Carolyn Yip, David Waizel and Nicole Woo, students in the school of interactive arts and technology, launched A Proper Farewell as a way of celebrating the lives of those who died from the illness. The students are sharing stories and images of those who have died via Instagram and Facebook. The public is invited to submit their stories of lost loved ones to the project’s website.

 

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Determined, loyal, loving, thoughtful and brave, Raghbir came to Toronto alone with only $5 in his pocket and had to make the journey to BC where his family resided. With the help of kind strangers, he was able to make the trek across the country. From here, he would work hard to bring his family to Canada 5 years later. From there, his ambition to continue to provide and build a better life for generations to come is what will always be remembered by his family.⁠ ⁠ Raghbir was 86 when he passed due to COVID-19. He will be dearly missed. ⁠ ⁠ “Do what you love, be a good person and always look after your loved ones” – Raghbir ⁠ ⁠ “He would look after me when I was young and would take me to the neighbourhood park to play for hours. He will be remembered for giving my family a better life, making it here alone from across the world against all odds and working hard to ensure my family had what they needed.” – Raghbir’s grandson⁠ ⁠ Raghbir’s family’s message for the community: “Please follow the directions of health officials and whatever they suggest to do so you and your loved ones will be safe from this horrible disease.” ⁠ ⁠ -Raghbir’s Grandson & Family⁠ ⁠ .⁠ .⁠ .⁠ .⁠ .⁠ .⁠ .⁠ .⁠ #aproperfarewell #liveswelllived #familylegacy #morethanastatistic #shareyourstory #thefacesofcovid #staysafe #staysafeathome #covidvancouver #covidcanada #minutessilence #covidusa #wewillnotforget #legacy #coronavirus⁠ ⁠@siatsfu @sfucentral

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“We want to bring weight to the numbers and remind people that real lives are lost behind the numbers we see every day,” Mr. Waizel told SFU News. “The stories shared by A Proper Farewell are not obituaries, but celebrations of life.”

June 5, 2020

Consortium to collaborate on developing digital resources for the fall

The McConnell Foundation announced yesterday that it is providing start-up financial support to a consortium of several Canadian universities to collaborate on “the rapid curation, development and deployment of digital resource materials to support common high-priority first-year university courses” for this coming fall term. By pooling their resources, the consortium hopes to avoid a duplication of efforts and reduce the workload for faculty and educational developers.

The urgent switch to remote teaching and learning during the recent winter and spring terms due to the pandemic demonstrated “a pressing need for improved digital materials within these high-priority first-year courses,” reads the release. The consortium defined high-priority courses as those which feature a high degree of common content, are offered to a large number of students, and serve as entry points to a variety of programs and areas of study.

“The consortium project is an excellent fit for us,” said Chad Lubelsky, program director at the McConnell Foundation. “It is learning-centred, highly collaborative, innovative, and offers the prospect of long-term benefits for Canada’s universities.”

Added Jason Carey, associate dean for programs in the engineering faculty of the University of Alberta: “When I heard about the consortium, I was already thinking of contacting other faculties of engineering across Canada to work on creating new resources to support our students, and I immediately realized that a national consortium would provide a great opportunity to build on that work.”

The idea for a “digital resources consortium” was first broached by Alex Usher, president of the consulting firm Higher Education Strategy Associates.

Universities currently associated with the project include the University of Windsor, York University, the University of Ottawa, Carleton University, Concordia University of Edmonton, the University of Alberta, the University of Manitoba, the NSCAD University and Cape Breton University. Discussions are in progress with other interested institutions in several provinces, and with individuals who have volunteered to lend their expertise to the project. The four Maple League universities (Acadia University, Bishop’s University, Mount Allison University and St. Francis Xavier University) have also agreed to support the project by sharing curated digital materials designed for students in smaller universities with a liberal arts focus.

The project coordinator is David Graham, the former vice-president, academic, and provost of the University of Ottawa and now the principal of Xenops Consulting. Those interested can contact Dr. Graham at david@thexenops.ca.

Students helping, too

Speaking of online course development, the University of Waterloo announced it will be hiring more than 300 co-op students to support faculties in the development and delivery of new online academic courses.

“Everyone’s ‘new normal’ requires a new approach, a fresh perspective,” says Norah McRae, associate provost of co-operative and experiential education. “Our university, like others, has been transitioning to increased online course delivery. Now, more than ever, we can leverage the strength and talent of our co-op students to move forward together as an institution.”

The initiative is being funded in part through the Government of Canada’s Student Work Placement Program, which provides up to $7,000 of a student’s salary. SWPP was recently extended to include postsecondary educational institutions, and Waterloo received pre-approval for 300 SWPP positions. The university has provided additional funding for 20 positions that will be made available to international students.

Similarly, Carleton University announced it has a limited number of opportunities available this summer, through its Students as Partners Program, for students to help Carleton instructors prepare their online courses for the fall term.

Feeling stressed? You’re not alone

According to a recent study by a team of researchers led by Caroline Biron, professor in the faculty of administrative sciences at Université Laval, nearly half of Quebec workers are suffering from a high level of psychological distress. Dr. Biron and her colleagues analyzed the responses of 1,259 Quebecers to an online survey conducted from April 30 to May 7. All respondents were actively working at the time of the survey.

Specifically, 56 percent of women and 41 percent of men reported a high level of psychological distress, for an average of 48 percent of the Quebec working population. This is a significant increase compared to pre-pandemic data collected in 2015 by the Institut de la statistique du Québec in the Quebec Population Health Survey, in which roughly one-third of women and one-quarter of men reported a high level of distress.

The current pandemic exposes “the vulnerabilities of our systems – what were fragile before and are even more so today,” says Dr. Biron. “The new work reality that we face today requires us more than ever to review our priorities and our organizational practices by supporting and training our managers in the importance of people management and psychological health.”

Something nice

According to a report by Global News, 224 bachelor of education students at the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education are volunteering to tutor local K-12 students who may be struggling with their studies due to the shift to learning online. The tutors have been matched up with over 400 students; each tutor is assigned up to four students and meets virtually with them for up to three hours a week. According to the report, there is already talk of continuing the project through the summer and fall.

June 4, 2020

U of T raises pride flags on campus and online

Today, the University of Toronto raised pride flags on all three campuses. June marks LGBTQ2+ pride month and to mark the occasion, the university raised the trans pride and More Colour, More Pride flags – an adaptation of the rainbow flag to include a brown and black stripe in celebration of queer and trans folk who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour – on its physical campuses. In response to the campus closures, the university’s sexual and gender diversity office also created an animated video to share the flag raising beyond campus: “These flags are a reminder to work towards reducing barriers to full participation and inclusion across the university.”

The office has prepared a month of online events that specifically honour “our diverse LGBTQ+ communities, while highlighting the work of two-spirit, LGBTQ+ Indigenous, and people of colour artists and community leaders.” Some of the events planned include a virtual documentary screening, children’s story time, and the new PRIDE Pitch Competition – a Dragon’s Den-style business pitch contest for LGBTQ2+ entrepreneurs.

New research shows hydroxychloroquine “no better than a placebo” against COVID-19

COVID researchers’ on-again, off-again relationship with hydroxychloroquine is off again. An international study, including researchers from Canada, published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that the drug does not prevent infection from COVID-19.

The study included clinical trial data collected in Canada by Todd Lee and Emily G. McDonald at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and with collaborators at the University of Manitoba and the University of Alberta.

The international team of researchers followed 821 asymptomatic adults residing in Canada or the United States who had been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19. Within four days of exposure, the participants were given either a placebo or hydroxychloroquine to be taken over five days. In all, 107 participants developed COVID-19 (either confirmed with a test or symptomatically compatible disease) over the 14 days of follow-up. Among those who became sick, 49 had been taking the drug. (Overall, two patients were hospitalized and no deaths occurred.)

In an interview with the Canadian Press, Dr. Lee said that the researchers “found that there was no statistical difference between patients who got the placebo – which was a vitamin pill – versus those who received the active drug hydroxychloroquine.”

While patients taking hydroxychloroquine reported side effects like nausea and abdominal discomfort, no serious adverse reactions were detected, including any heart arrhythmia, which was the main concern about the drug put forward by a now controversial study in The Lancet last month.

McMaster shows off new social distancing signage

As Ontario relaxes restrictions to allow some researchers to return to campuses, McMaster University figured it would take the chance to announce some of the new safety measures in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Chief among them is new signage around campus reminding people to keep their distance and take precautions while using busy spaces like elevators, hallways and washrooms. The university has developed signage packages for labs that are reopening that clearly explain new campus rules, such as building doors are now clearly marked as entrances or exits; washrooms are for use by one person at a time, regardless of their normal occupancy; and adhere to the directional arrows on hallway floors.

Something nice

The University of Saskatchewan is working with Montreal Lake Cree Nation to provide housing for residents in the Indigenous community during the pandemic. When the nation closed its borders to reduce the spread of COVID-19, it approached the university about taking over nearly two dozen vacant cabins owned by the institution. The small cabins come from the university’s shuttered Emma Lake Kenderdine campus and are structurally sound, though not winterized. On March 30, the university’s board of governors agreed to offer the cabins to the nearby cree nation at no charge.

June 3, 2020

Alberta shelves performance-based funding model for 2020-21

Alberta’s Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said the province will hold off on implementing a new performance-based funding model for public postsecondary institutions for this academic year as schools grapple with the financial impacts of the global pandemic. “We need to be flexible and give our institutions a degree of certainty as best as possible in these uncertain times,” the minister told the CBC.

As part of the new funding model, which had originally been slated to launch on April 1, 15 percent of funding provided by the government would be tied to how well the institution met certain targets, such as graduate employment. By 2022-23, 40 percent of public funding would be tied to meeting those targets.

From the CBC:

Earlier this year, Nicolaides delayed the funding change by a couple of months, then moved the start date to July 1. Now he doesn’t have a new due date for the funding agreements.

However, the province’s 2020 budget was approved based on the assumption postsecondary funding would be tied to performance starting this year. Nicolaides wouldn’t say on Monday how the policy change would immediately affect funding for postsecondary institutions.

The provincial government is also cutting its funding to postsecondary institutions by 20 percent during the next three years, saying schools in other provinces run on far less public money per student. … The government wants institutions to get a greater proportion of their funding from tuition and other sources, such as grants and fundraising.

Online fall term leads to uncertainty for small university towns

The Globe and Mail published an article on the domino effect that a virtual fall term will have on the small communities in the Maritimes and Eastern Quebec that are home to Maple League universities. The universities in the Maple League – Acadia University, Bishop’s University, Mount Allison University and St. Francis Xavier University – are primarily undergraduate, liberal-arts focused institutions with strong residence life programs. Without students, faculty and staff on campus, these communities are concerned about a loss of revenue for local businesses, on-campus job losses as well as other financial impacts on the local economy.

Wolfville, Nova Scotia, home to Acadia, sees its population increase by more than 50 percent when school is in session, according to mayor Jeff Cantwell. Other Maple League municipalities report that their universities contribute anywhere from $60 million to $150 million to the local economy. So far, Maple League institutions are leaning towards a hybrid instruction model for the fall, with some saying they’ll have a final answer this month or next.

Toronto researchers develop at-home antibody test

Several studies are now underway to investigate the role antibodies from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 can play in treating the disease, including a significant national effort funded by the federal government. Among these initiatives is a new study led by epidemiologist Prabhat Jha, a professor with the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, that hopes to track up to 10,000 Canadians for six months to gain insight into how long COVID-19 immunity lasts.

The study, called Action to Beat Coronavirus, is a collaboration between U of T, the Centre for Global Health Research at Unity Health Toronto and the Angus Reid Institute. Unlike most antibody studies, this one provides subjects with kits to take their own blood samples at home and mail them in for testing at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. The kits include a lancet (for pricking skin to draw blood), gauze, alcohol wipe, bandage, instructions and a consent form.

Dr. Jha explained to CTV News how the study will proceed: “The first phase of the study is an online questionnaire that will be sent out to more than 10,000 Canadians through the Angus Reid Forum. … Those who fill it out will be asked about their experience with COVID-19. Participants will be selected randomly from those who agreed to have their blood tested, and kits will be sent out, starting in the first week of June.”

Four to six months after the initial blood samples have been tested, participants complete another questionnaire and submit another sample for comparison.

Don’t call it a comeback, yet, for hydroxychloroquine

Many pixels have already been dedicated to the conversation on studying hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19 (including in these updates), and still the debate rages on. The medical journal that published a paper denouncing the drug as a COVID-19 treatment which led many studies to be halted (see our update from May 28), is now questioning the validity of the data in that study. The Lancet published an “expression of concern” this week, noting that “serious scientific questions” had been raised about the paper.

The CBC reports that some 150 doctors signed a letter last week calling on the journal to make available peer review comments that would have been submitted to the journal prior to the study’s publication.

Something nice

Queen’s University campus might be closed to the public, but that doesn’t have to stop you from visiting campus online thanks to a group of students who have painstakingly recreated the Queen’s campus in Minecraft.

The students, who are part of the graduating class of 2020, were inspired to recreate the university in the 3D game after hearing about a graduation ceremony held in Minecraft by students in Japan. Other Queen’s students have since joined in to add to the campus landscape and even reconstruct their own student houses in nearby neighbourhoods.

June 1, 2020

Protesting white supremacy and police violence during a pandemic

While these weekday updates are intended to keep readers current on COVID-19 and its impact on the higher-ed sector in Canada, we’re starting today’s post by acknowledging the protests and rallies against police violence, anti-black racism and white supremacy that were carried out over the weekend (and last week) across the United States and in Canadian cities including Montreal, Halifax, Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto.

Several Canadian university and university presidents and issued statements in response to these events. Malinda Smith, a political science professor at the University of Alberta, collected many of these statements in a Twitter thread.

In her address, Memorial University president Vianne Timmons notes that like the U.S., Canada has its own “deeply entrenched systemic racism and the generational trauma associated with it” that need to be named and shamed. “Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. To members of these groups, I want you to know that you are a valued member of the Memorial community. We mourn with you; we stand with you and we are here to support you.”

Brock University president Gervan Fearon wrote a statement inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the March on Washington in 1963. “In 2020, we are all well aware of our interconnected world which we see through the role of the internet or the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, we can feel distant and disconnected from the challenges and pain of others just a block away, let alone a country and a people from away. The United States has its own history, but we should not be naïve about our own past or even present that itself at times demands redress, reconciliation and progressive action. America was burning last night — after the death of a dream from more than 50 years ago —  but today should be an awakening, a turning point for action.”

In a tweet today, St. Francis Xavier University president Kevin Wamsley called for “Xavarians around the world” to speak out against and “stand up to racism.” He also said that a commitment to more scholarships and bursaries for Black students, decolonized course content and the hiring of and support for Black faculty and staff members are “not just words.”

Virtual convocations

St. FX was one of several universities to host virtual convocation ceremonies over the past week honouring the Class of 2020. Though it has already scheduled an in-person ceremony in 2021 for this year’s graduating cohort, the university posted congratulatory messages from the president and other special speakers and is updating a virtual guestbook.

Most Canadian institutions are offering similar activities to mark graduating in absentia, with a few special touches. Mount Allison University’s hour-long ceremony video began with a Mi’kmaq honour song and included the reading out of each degree and certificate conferred for the year. Brandon University celebrated its 593 new graduates, the largest graduating class since 2012, by including a rolling list of each graduate in a video message featuring several administrators, faculty and staff members. At the University of Toronto, a small group of graduating students were invited to participate as student ambassadors in recording a convocation ceremony that will be distributed tomorrow. That video will include the names of all 15,508 members of U of T’s Class of 2020.

Toronto asks universities to continue WFH until Sept.

The City of Toronto has requested that postsecondary institutions in the municipality maintain work-from-home arrangements until at least September. York University president Rhona Lenton released a message on Sunday stating that the institution will comply with the request. “Doing so also allows the university the necessary time to fully plan and introduce a phased and timely return to more regular operations when conditions allow us to do so,” she said. She also noted that Ryerson University, the University of Toronto and several colleges have equally committed to not return to in-person work environments until this fall, at the earliest.

Congress starts today!

Today marks the start of the first virtual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Four scholarly associations will host online panel discussions, paper presentations and keynote speakers over the next several days. To see which events are open to the public, visit the calendar of events.

CACUSS starts tomorrow!

Instead of its usual annual conference, the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services is hosting CACUSS ON-line, “a national gathering of passionate student affairs professionals delivering virtual content on trending issues related to higher education.” Starting on Tuesday, June 2, the association will regularly host live professional development webinars until September 30. More than 35 presentations will take place under one of three streams: Indigenous cultural competency; equity, diversity and inclusion; and fostering healthy campuses and COVID-19.

NL makes changes to student aid

On Sunday, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced that it would make some changes to student aid for the 2020-2021 academic year to mitigate financial hardship students are facing due to the pandemic. For the upcoming year, the province will increase the weekly loan limit to $100 per week of study (up from $40), bringing the combined provincial loan and grant weekly limit to $200; and, it will exempt student and spousal contributions during the assessment of provincial student aid applications.

Something nice

Healthy Debate, a health-care publication by health-care workers and patients, has launched a series called “Faces of COVID.” The series features the experiences of frontline health-care workers in their own words. In an article about the project, U of T News describes the stories as “a brief snapshot that showcases the humanity amid the pandemic through the everyday experiences of frontline and essential workers. Their experiences extend to living away from their families during the pandemic, adapting to new ways of doing their jobs, fears and anxieties around the virus and also optimism and hope.”

May 29, 2020

CFI suspends COVID-19 funding competition 

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

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

CIHR competition to proceed remotely this spring 

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

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

U of Ottawa profs publish free ebook on remote teaching 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something nice 

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

 

May 28, 2020

U of Manitoba enters Phase 2 of return to research activities

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

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

AB pauses hydroxychloroquine study, McGill presses on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Non-medical masks

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

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

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

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

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

Something nice

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

May 27, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An international list of ongoing pandemic research competitions

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

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

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

CAUT surveys postsecondary staff on pandemic impact

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

Something nice

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

May 26, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CFI, Future Skills Centre now accepting proposals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quebec opens additional med school spots

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

Something nice

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

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

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

May 25, 2020

StatCan releases data on postsecondary student employment

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

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

Cybersecurity experts issue joint statement on contact tracing apps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UBC researchers prototype biodegradable medical mask

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

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

Free CAHSPR conference looks at post-COVID health care

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

Something nice

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

May 22, 2020

ON reveals recipients of rapid research funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QC premier aims to have students in the classroom this fall

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

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

40 jobs lost at MRU

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

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

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

Something nice

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

May 21, 2020

King’s University College to open residences for Sept.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have your say on post-pandemic policy

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

Prez rez goes on the market

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

UTSC repurposes hall for crisis food distribution

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

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

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

Something nice

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

May 20, 2020

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

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

Layoffs in Lethbridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Varsity sports in limbo for most provinces

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

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

NL grant encourages students to work with isolated seniors

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

The complexities behind tuition cuts and pass/fail grades

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

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

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

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

Something nice

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

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

May 19, 2020

Students attempt to sue 15 universities in Quebec

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

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

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

CAUT offers guidelines for reopening campus

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

Dal to jointly host first Canadian clinical trial for COVID vaccine

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

An estimated 28M surgeries impacted by COVID-19

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

The Lancet fact-checks Trump

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

Something nice

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

May 15, 2020

Feds promise $450M to avoid lab layoffs

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

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

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

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

IRCC relaxes work permit rules for international students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More plans for fall 2020

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

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

Academica is now tracking fall announcements as they are released.

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

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

Something nice: Pixar vibes

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

May 14, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

More on COVID-19 and Indigenous students, communities

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

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

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

Reduced grants to MB universities and staff layoffs

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

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

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

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

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

PSEWeb conference moves online

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

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

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

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

May 13, 2020

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

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

And now, to the update!

CESB applications open Friday

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

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

Goodbye Congress 2020, Hello Virtual Conference Week

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

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

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

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

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

University cancels international travel for rest of 2020

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

Something nice: Happy birthday edition

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

May 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NRC partners with Chinese company, VIDO-InterVac for vaccine

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

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

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

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

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

Something nice: wellness breaks

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

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

May 11, 2020

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

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

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

CIHR scraps clarification on application requirements for COVID-19 funding

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

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

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

International survey measures student well-being

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

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

Globe and Mail to host webcast on PSE during pandemic

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

Something nice

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

May 8, 2020

Researchers push back against CIHR application update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More COVID-19 data

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

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

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

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

Something nice: pandemic pregnancies and presidential donations

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

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

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

May 7, 2020

Update on performance-based funding

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manitoba to match bursary donations 1:1

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

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

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

Julie Payette in conversation with Mona Nemer today

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

Something nice

Barbara Layne, foreground.

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

May 6, 2020

Canadian Science Policy Conference moves November event online

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

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

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

New tech for disinfecting spaces

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

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

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

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

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

Research on pets and COVID-19

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

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

How’d they do it?

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

Something nice

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

May 5, 2020

How do COVID-19 tests work?

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

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

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

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

International partnership for genomic research on virus

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

Brock offers flexible options for grad students

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

Survey of North American students about fall 2020

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

Something nice: Congrats graduates!

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

And something not so nice, actually

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

May 4, 2020

Return to work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

University instructors speak out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something nice

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

May 1, 2020

 

Quebec extends international student visa

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

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

University president seeks federal help for international students

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

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

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

USask lays off 500 employees

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

NSERC reaches out

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

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

SFU launches COVID-19 response network on Slack, Zoom

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

Something nice: Star Wars for a good cause

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

April 30, 2020

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laurentian struggles with “COVID-19-related challenges”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something nice: Team Canada fights COVID-19

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

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

April 29, 2020

 

Any postdocs in the house?

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

Complete the survey here.

Public events address global response to COVID-19

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

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

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

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

Campus career centres pivot

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

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

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

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

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

Something nice

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

April 28, 2020

 

Academic labs to reopen in Quebec

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

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

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

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

Maple League eases credit transfer requirements

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

NB opens intersession university courses to Grade 12 students

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

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

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

Academica releases part two of StudentVu survey

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

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

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

Research on pandemic communication

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

Something nice: Arkells serenade Class of 2020

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

April 27, 2020

 

NB institutions reopen for some students

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

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

ON university plans for in-person classes this September

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

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

Summer jobs for students

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

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

Science policy experts respond to pandemic

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

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

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

Concordia leads student journalism initiative for COVID-19 news

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

Something nice

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

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

April 24, 2020

 

Federal update on research funding  

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

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

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

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

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

Federal update on graduate student and postdoc funding 

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

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

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

Federal update on COVID stats 

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

Here’s a snapshot of what the results suggest:  

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

View a more detailed summary at the Statistics Canada website.  

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

Preliminary results on asymptomatic transmission 

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

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

Something nice: More very good dogs 

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

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

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

April 23, 2020

 

Federal updates

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

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

Layoffs at ULaval

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

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

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

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

Coronavirus misinformation

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

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

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

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

Something nice: Hear McGill’s ROAAr

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

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

April 22, 2020

 

Fall scenarios

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

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

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

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

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

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

University kitchens

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

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

The “StudentVu” on COVID-19

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

Something nice: Support for international students

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

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

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

April 21, 2020

 

StatCan seeks student input

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

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

Students have until May 1 to participate.

Students have their say

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

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

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

Winter grades won’t affect “R” score

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

Making datasets available to students

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

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

Something nice: Create a “good goodbye”

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

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

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

 

View this post on Instagram

 

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

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

April 20, 2020

 

Ontario invests $20M in COVID-19 research

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

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

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

Academic cost-cutting, job losses

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

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

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

CAUT town hall

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

“Bridge” funds for students, staff

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

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

Profiles of on-campus work

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

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

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

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

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

Something nice

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

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

April 17, 2020

 

Campus facilities and emergency response

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

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

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

Mental health

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

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

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

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

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

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

International students

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

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

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

Something nice

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

April 16, 2020

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hackers target COVID-19 researchers

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

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

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

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

The article suggests several additional warning signs to watch for.

Hacking COVID-19

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

Convocation in a box

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

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

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

Human interaction from home

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

Something nice

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

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

April 15, 2020

 

NSERC update

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

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

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

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

PEI announces new jobs, funding for students

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

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

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

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

Asymptomatic and community transmission of COVID-19

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

Archiving the pandemic

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

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

Register for the call here.

Something nice

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

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

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

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

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

April 14, 2020

 

Academic governance in times of crisis

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

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

Emergency funding for students in SK

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

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

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

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

Fond farewell

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

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

Something nice: Home baking edition

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

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

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

But why stop your culinary journey at cinnamon buns?

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

April 10-13, 2020 – Long weekend roundup

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

Have a restful weekend and stay safe.

Familiar faces

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

A break from the news

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

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

Podcasts

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

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

Something for the kids

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

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

Last, but not least

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

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

 

Feds increase Canada Summer Jobs subsidy to help boost student employment

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

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

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

StatCan responds to COVID-19

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

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

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

Canadians lead massive plasma study

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

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

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

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

Free professional development for grad students

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

Something nice

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

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

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

 

Manitoba suspends loan repayments

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

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

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

Update on international students

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

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

More tips for working from home

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

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

What students are tweeting about the online transition

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

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

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

Pandemic in the first person

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

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

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

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

Something nice

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

 

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

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

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

Emergency legislation overrules patents

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

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

A thought on a national strategy for online education

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

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

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

Research participants needed

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

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

Something nice

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

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

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

 

Emergency funding for students and government response

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

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

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

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

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

Skills training for the jobless

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

“We need you!”

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

Something nice

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

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

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

 

CIHR cancels spring competition, extends existing grants

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

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

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

Read the full statement here.

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

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

Planning for student success during a pandemic

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

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

Call for COVID-19 editorials

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

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

 

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

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Bauer is a very good boy.

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

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

 

It’s official: Congress is cancelled

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

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

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

Chief scientist launches research platform

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

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

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

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

Lead better virtual meetings

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

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

Something nice

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

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

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

New NSERC funding and Tri-agency delays

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

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

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

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

Ontario offers $25M for PSE for pandemic relief

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

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

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

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

More internal funding

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

An update on the National Emergency Library

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

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

Something nice

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

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

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

 

Need an expert? We’ve got ’em

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alberta enlists Butterdome

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

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

CACUSS cancelled

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

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

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

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

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

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

More history repeating

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

Something nice

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

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

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

 

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

 

Universities offer emergency housing

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

Quebec to create COVID-19 biobank

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

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

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

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

Funding and services for youth mental health

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something nice

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

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

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

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

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

 

Travel ban exemptions come into effect

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

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

Equitable access to resources and fair dealing during a pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Science in a hurry

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

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

Students deserve a voice at the table in times of crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tenure on hold for some at U of T

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

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

 

STLHE conference cancelled

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Your parchment is in the mail…

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

Translators needed

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


Other articles we have written about COVID-19:

 


Med students make a difference

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

How universities responded to the 1918 flu pandemic

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

A matter of policy

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

A Zoom of one’s own

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

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

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

 

But what is “essential”?

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

Student funding update

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

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

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

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

Canada shuts military colleges – finally

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

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

Office hours for teaching and learning questions

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

There’s a podcast for that

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

Work-integrated learning adapts

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

International students stuck in Canada

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graduate supervision

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

Mitacs cancels internships

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

Alone, together

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

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

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

Some international students exempt from travel ban

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

Universities offer emergency student funding

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

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

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

U of Calgary opts for pass/fail

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

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

Student-loan relief in PEI

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

What it’s like to have COVID-19

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

Tips: financial planning, defending your diss, community engagement

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

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

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

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

 

It’s official: no in-person Congress

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

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

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

No letter grades

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

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

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

Spring and summer terms

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

More rapid-response research funding from feds

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

More potential COVID-19 cases associated with universities

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

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

Phishing scams

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

Kind words

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping up-to-date

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

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

Student loans

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

Research funding updates

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

Federal Tri-Agency (SSHRC/NSERC/CIHR)

CFI

MITACS

 

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

 

Student loan relief

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

Compassionate communications

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

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

U of Lethbridge member self-isolating

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

Drive-through testing

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read also: Academic freedom in the time of coronovirus


The last class

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

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

More cancellations

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

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

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

Admissions this fall

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

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


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


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

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

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

Miscellaneous

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

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

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

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

 

Updates from funders

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

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

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

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

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

Government updates

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

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

More cancellations and advice

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How’s it going? Let us know

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

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

 

Student residences

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

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

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

Students who may be able to remain in residence include:

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

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

Shutting down St. Patrick’s Day celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The shift to online learning

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

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

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

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

March 16, 2020 3 p.m. EST

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

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

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

March 16, 2020 12 p.m. EST

 

Quebec’s universities

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend recap

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

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

Online transition

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

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

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

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

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

March 13, 2020

 

Quebec classes cancelled for two weeks

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

Large classes nixed

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

Class cancellations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quebec universities

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

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

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

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

March 12, 2020

Classes suspended

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

“With a known case of the virus in our community, we aim to take proactive measures to prevent the spread of this illness. We understand that changes in our day-to-day operations will create challenges and disruptions, however, we believe the risk of not taking action is of greater concern to our community,” said the statement.

The move by Laurentian was spurred by the announcement that an individual from Sudbury, who had attended the Prospectors and Developers Conference (PDAC) in Toronto, had tested positive for COVID-19. “As with every year, Laurentian had a major presence at the PDAC, including many members of our community who attended,” said a statement.


Read also: It’s complicated: the ethics of pandemic preparedness and response


Risk assessed as “low”

So far, no other public Canadian universities have announced the cancellation of in-person classes. Most universities, in their communications to their campuses – such as this statement from the University of British Columbia – are deferring to the Public Health Agency of Canada, which currently assesses the public health risk associated with COVID-19 as low.

Many universities are reporting that they have plans in place if classes are cancelled. York University, for example, states that, “We have developed a comprehensive plan to ensure that we can complete the academic term in the event that we are required for health and safety reasons to reduce face-to-face classroom instruction.”

Travel, study abroad, Congress

Quite a few universities have cancelled all study-abroad initiatives and suspended most work-related travel. The University of Alberta, for example, has declared that “all travel outside Alberta not considered vital to the academic mission of the university is … suspended.”

McMaster University, meanwhile, has decided to end “all undergraduate and graduate student international travel for McMaster-related activities,” effective immediately. Graduate students with specific circumstances can request a waiver, which requires “written approval of either the provost or the vice-provost, international.”

At Western University, president Alan Shepard announced that the university “has cancelled future university-sanctioned travel for all students” and strongly encourages faculty and staff to defer travel to countries with active health notices for COVID-19. “We are also receiving inquiries related to Congress 2020 and Convocation and, at this time, it is premature to make decisions as these events are months away,” he said. (Western hosts this year’s Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, from May 30 to June 5.)

In an update today, Congress organizers have stated that “if Congress does not go ahead, all attendees will be eligible for a full refund of their Congress fee. Refunds of association conference fees will be managed on a case-by-case basis, based on association’s contingency plans.”

Internationally

On March 10, according to UNESCO, the crisis is now impacting close to 363 million learners worldwide, from the pre-primary to tertiary level, including 57.8 million students in higher education. One in five students worldwide is staying away from school due to the COVID-19 crisis and an additional one in four is being kept out of higher education establishments. Fifteen countries have ordered nationwide school closures and 14 have implemented localized closures, spanning Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America. These numbers are now almost certainly out of date.

In the U.S. alone, over the past several days, more than 200 universities and colleges, including institutions such as Princeton, MIT and Berkeley, have announced they are suspending or cancelling classes, with a plan to transition courses to online platforms (see an updated spreadsheet here). Some universities, such as Harvard, have asked students not to return to campus at all, including to student dormitories, after the spring recess, which at Harvard runs from March 14 to March 22.

Have your say

How has COVID-19 affected your institution? The Canadian Bureau for International Education is conducting a 5-to-10-minute survey “to better understand how Canadian education institutions have been impacted by COVID-19.” CBIE will analyze the survey findings and plans to publish an anonymized special report “which will inform the sector’s ongoing advocacy and communications related to the COVID-19 outbreak.” Surveys must be completed by end of day tomorrow, March 13.

Tri-Agencies funding

Canada’s Tri-Agencies (CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC) announced last week that funds will be made available to reimburse fees accrued by researchers who’ve had to cancel grant-related travel due to COVID-19 restrictions.

COMMENTS
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  1. J.Creagh / March 13, 2020 at 10:58

    What about Guelph University, what is their status?
    Thank you

  2. Sam Silverstone / March 13, 2020 at 15:59

    If I were a secondary- education institution (whether vocational school, college, CEGEP, university
    or otherwise) and have the option to end inperson classes and to go online instead and let students
    stay home and complete their year online, I would take that option given the current uncertainties surrounding COVID-19. Most of these post-secondary institutions (except for those in Ontario) have
    not exercised this option instead wilfully hoping all will be well or until a student or staff or family member of any of these institutions gets the COVID-19! The legally responsible action for any educational institution at this point in time and given the above online option for students is to exercise that option and send students and staff home, NOT to wish and wait until there is one or more COVID-19 cases, suspected or otherwise on campus. This especially true for institutions offering residence accomodations for their students. CAUTION to all such institutions: it is not so farfetched that any student or staff suffering damages or injury (or death) from the COVID-19 could sue the institution for gross negligence in not having exercised the closure and online option instead of the high risk option of maintaining inperson classes in face of the unknown. I wonder whether legal counsels for theses educational institutions
    are being involved in discussions and decisions to continue student inperson attendance or instead
    to stay home and continue classes and work online in greater safety?

  3. Helen / March 20, 2020 at 13:21

    Would now be a good time to point out to university administrators that their heavy reliance on contract instructors perpetuates the social determinants of health issues which arise in relation to precarious employment? We have an entire cohort of PhD’s saddled with the related student debt, who have been earning a fraction of what their permanently employed counterparts earn facing unemployment at the end of the semester. Since nobody is in a hurry to shake hands, not a lot of job interviews will be happening for the foreseeable future. So much for equity in academia.

  4. Karsten Loepelmann / March 23, 2020 at 18:15

    This is incorrect: “…the University of Alberta extended the same offer [to have the choice to receive a letter grade for their winter term courses, or to opt for pass/fail] to students late last week.” UAlberta has gone with pass/fail only, which has greatly upset many people.

    It would be nice to have a tally of which Canadian institutions have gone with pass/fail vs. opt in to receive a letter grade.

  5. marko / April 1, 2020 at 11:51

    Are their still maintenance/cleaning staff and trades still working in Canadian universities and why?