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COVID-19 updates for June 2020

BY UA/AU | JUN 30 2020

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.”

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