British Columbia

Universities and colleges prepare for in-person education starting in September

After an unprecedented year that saw post secondary institutions move to virtual learning environments, students will once again be walking the halls of universities, colleges and institutes beginning in September.

Minister of advanced education says safety will be a top priority

University students in B.C. are expected to return to in-person classes starting September 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

After an unprecedented year that saw post secondary institutions move to virtual learning environments, students will once again be walking the halls of universities, colleges and institutes beginning in September.

On Monday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry advised the presidents of all public colleges and universities to prepare for a full return to on-campus education.

"I'm encouraged by Dr. Henry's advice that a return to in-person instruction can be done safely this fall for all students, staff and faculty," said Advanced Education Minister Anne Kang in a statement.

"In fact, it's important to do so for people's well-being."

At the end of February, the province announced an accelerated vaccination plan that would see every eligible adult in British Columbia receive a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by early to late July

At the onset of the pandemic, post secondary schools shuttered — like much of the province.

Institutions then transitioned to an online learning environment that created unique challenges for students and staff.

"This year has been incredibly hard, and I've heard from many students, faculty and staff who are eager to return to campus when it is safe," said Kang.

Right now, the hallways at Simon Fraser University's Academic Quadrangle are mostly empty, as the university is mainly offering courses online to keep students safe during the pandemic. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

She acknowledges that many may still feel concerned about returning to school in the fall, but she says safety is a top priority.

 "At every step, we're going to be working with Dr. Henry and all our partners to make sure the right measures are in place to keep people safe," she said.

Students, staff ready to return

Tanysha Klassen, the chairperson of the British Columbia Federation of Students says students are excited to return to school and even a little relieved.

She says online learning has been a difficult transition for many. The university experience isn't only about learning, she says, but also about being a part of a community.

"So many students, when they decide to go to college or university, they don't sign up to take online courses. They sign up so they can be on campus, meet new friends, have new experiences and focus on their learning with their peers in-person." 

Students living on campus in B.C. this year can expect a lot of changes put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

So, today's news is welcomed, and students are ready to return, she says, as long as it is safe to do so.

It's a sentiment echoed by Brent Calvert, the president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C.

"There's genuine excitement," he said of the announcement and hopes the return to campus "is met with safety protocols and good consultation and collaboration with all the parties."

Focus on safety

As the University of British Columbia prepares to welcome the return of students in the fall, it says the health and well-being of its community is its top priority.

To safely accommodate more people on campus, it says it will continue to work with public health officials on a safety plan that includes transit planning, quarantine arrangements for international students, options for onsite immunization and the availability of study spaces.

"We look forward to seeing our UBC community return, making our campuses vibrant once more," said university president and vice-chancellor Santa J. Ono in a statement.

Simon Fraser University and Kwantlen Polytechnic University also say they're looking forward to the safe return of students to their campuses.

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