British Columbia

Students and faculty still in the dark about what new post-secondary school year will look like

Universities, student unions and faculty groups say the changing landscape during a pandemic means there are lots of questions about what the next school year will look like, but very few answers.

High level of uncertainty among faculty and students while they await details about next year

Students on the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver in 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

What will post secondary education look like in British Columbia come September? The one word answer is — different.

Beyond that universities, student unions and faculty groups say the changing landscape due to the COVID-19 pandemic means there are lots of questions, but very few answers.

"The uncertainty is so real and due to that, we can't plan more than a month in the future," said Juliet Watts, director of community relations for the University of Victoria Students' Society. 

Watts is studying political science and public administration and is on track to graduate in 2022. She says the majority of UVic students, herself included, are not from Victoria. Not knowing if there will be in-person classes in the fall has left her in the difficult position of trying to decide whether she should sign a lease or move home to take remote classes where she will have more family and social support.

"The impacts on people's mental health are quite profound," she said. "Online delivery does not work the same for every student. It increases accessibility for some, but labs and other experiential learning can't be delivered the same way online"

Outside of class, Watts says the ability for students to network with the peers and professors, both socially and to further their careers, will be severely handicapped if in-person interactions on campus are cut back.

All of which raises another question for Watts. If students are seeing a reduction in services, will they still be asked to pay the same tuition?

Smaller classes mean high costs for schools

"The cost of running programs will be higher if we have to have smaller classes," said Sherri Bell, president of Camosun College.

Bell says those higher costs will not be passed on to students, but they should be prepared for other changes.

"We anticipate a hybrid approach … with smaller groups of students in person and most parts of the course being completed online," she said 

Bell emphasised that plans are still in flux and administrators will be following guidance from provincial public health officials.

CBC reached out to several other major B.C. post-secondary institutions, including the University of British Columbia,  Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Simon Fraser University as well as the provincial Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Training.

Across the board the message was the same: Plans are being developed but it's too early to say with certainty what students and staff can expect to see in the fall.

Maintaining excellence is a challenge

Summer session is starting at many higher education institutions and instructors are scrambling to make their classes available online.

"We ask ourselves a lot if this is sustainable," said the president of the Camosun College Faculty Association Chris Ayles.

"Instructors are worn out, they have been working overtime and weekends for weeks on end and they don't know when it will end."

Ayles teaches geography and environmental technology and says his classes involve a lot of field work where students use shared equipment. There is a certain magic that comes from being in an engaged classroom environment, he says, and that's been lost by shifting online on short notice.

"It is a profession unto itself to teach online well," he said. "It is very difficult to retool on the fly and make it excellent.

"We're worried about people burning out, but we're also worried about the students and whether we can do the job for them that they expect and they deserve," said Ayles.


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