Quebec universities, CEGEPs prepare for gradual reopening

Quebec universities and CEGEPs and their students are still trying to make sense of the provincial government’s decision to allow a gradual reopening of campus activities starting Feb. 8. Some students aren't necessarily eager to return just yet.

Province allows students to return at least one day a week starting Feb. 8

Quebec announced universities, including McGill, and CEGEPS were allowed to gradually resume on-campus activities. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Quebec universities and CEGEPs, and their students, are still trying to make sense of the provincial government's decision to allow a gradual reopening of campus activities starting Feb. 8.

The majority of classes in higher education settings have been held remotely since last spring. The government has stressed the reopening is optional for institutions.

Danielle McCann, the province's minister for higher education, is set to announce more details on Thursday, but Premier François Legault said on Tuesday the goal will be to allow students back "at least one day a week."

Bernard Tremblay, president of Quebec's CEGEP federation, said in an interview that remote learning made for a difficult fall semester and a return to at least some semblance of regular education is "good news for everyone."

But he acknowledged there will be complications given, for instance, the fact some students won't want to return, whether it be for personal or health reasons.

"We're all going to have to accommodate," he said Wednesday.

He said the circumstances will vary widely from institution to institution, depending on the number of students and the region.

In a statement, Concordia University said it would wait to hear more details from the government before announcing anything specific.

"We of course want to see campus life come back to normal as soon as public health conditions permit it, but we also want to avoid any more disruption to teaching and learning and want to make sure our community is safe," spokesperson Vannina Maestracci said in an email.

She noted Concordia already holds a small number of in-person activities, such as labs. The library is also open for studying. 

McGill University acknowledged it will soon be permitted to gradually implement additional in-person academic activities. 

"Those activities may include tutorials, conference sections, some laboratories activities, or some lectures," said spokesperson Katherine Gombay. 

"Students can choose whether or not to be present on campus to participate, and remote alternatives will be available."

Nicky Papagiannakis, a 22-year-old student in environmental and wildlife management at Vanier College, said learning remotely has been difficult, but going back to school would have its own challenges. She's not sure she will go.

"I wouldn't want to put my family at risk, or myself at risk," she said. "It's a little nerve-racking."

In January, the number of cases among those aged 20 to 30 accounted for 14 per cent of the total provincial number, down from 16 per cent in December. A recent study by Quebec's public health institute, the INSPQ, suggests the curfew may have helped limit gatherings.

With files from Lauren McCallum and Chloe Ranaldi


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