Post-secondary institutions in Waterloo region optimistic about in-person learning this fall

Post-secondary institutions in the region say they're planning for more students to be on campus and learning in-person for the fall 2021 semester, but say lack of certainty around the number of COVID-19 infections and vaccinations are holding them back from making a decision.

There's hope for in-person learning, but uncertainties about a third wave, vaccinations linger

Wilfrid Laurier University's provost and vice-president academic said the school is looking forward to welcoming students back to campus for fall. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The region's universities and college are optimistic but uncertain that students will return to campus for the upcoming fall semester as questions surrounding a third wave of COVID-19 and vaccinations linger.

None of the four institutions CBC News reached out to — the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, the University of Guelph and Conestoga College — reported having definitive plans in place yet as to how many classes will be conducted in-person in September.

They often cited uncertainties regarding the spread of COVID-19 infections at that time and the rate of vaccination among the student population. 

Anthony Vannelli, Laurier's provost and vice-president academic, said in an emailed statement that the university is getting ready for students to be back on campus this fall.

"All of us at Wilfrid Laurier University are looking forward to the day we welcome back our students, faculty and staff in-person to our campuses," he said. "For fall 2021, we are planning and preparing for a return to campus and to offer as many undergraduate and graduate courses in person as possible within public health guidelines."

"Laurier is also committed to restarting the in-person campus life opportunities that we all miss, such as recreation, student services and more."

Chris Read, associate provost students at the University of Waterloo, said the school is still developing a plan for the fall.

"The planning is certainly underway, but we haven't committed to any specific direction yet," he said in an interview. 

"The message that we're hearing loud and clear is that the vast majority of [students] are looking forward to getting back on campus, in-person, so they can have that community and their peers, and that face-to-face interaction that's so important in the learning environment," he continued.

A Conestoga College spokesperson says many students are already studying on campus. (Carmen Ponciano/ CBC)

A spokesperson for the University of Guelph said in an email to CBC K-W that the university has not made plans for the fall semester yet, but is hoping to offer a "significant" number of face-to-face courses.

The sentiments echo what other Ontario universities outside the region, including Western University, the University of Toronto and Queen's University, told the Canadian Press last week.

College already partially open

John Tibbits, Conestoga College's president, said that the college is in a different position than universities because many of its students — about 5,500 — are already learning in-person.

"So, the question is not whether the college will be open or not, it's a question of how far, how much further we can go," he said in an interview.

Tibbits said he doesn't think the college will be completely open by fall, and added he thinks recent statements from post-secondary institutions have been too optimistic and focused on marketing. He said the college will monitor public health guidelines closely when developing a plan for more students to potentially return to campus.

"We're operating right now with a cautiously optimistic tone," he said. "Obviously we know that most of the students want to be back full-time, and if we can do that in the fall we'll do it."


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