Montreal

Quebec universities, CEGEPs holding fall semester online

McGill University, Université de Montréal and Université Laval are among those going online this fall, as they try to balance health and safety concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic against the complexities of running a campus. 

McGill University, Université de Montréal and Université Laval among those making switch

McGill University is one of a few post-secondary institutions in Quebec that will be holding fall semester courses online. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Several universities and CEGEPs in Quebec say they will hold most of their courses online this fall, as they try to balance health and safety concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic against the complexities of running a campus. 

McGill University, Université de Montréal and Université Laval in Quebec City have all signalled they will conduct the bulk of their classes online.

"To allow McGill students to begin, or continue, their academic path no matter where they are, Fall 2020 courses will be offered primarily through remote delivery platforms," McGill said in a statement.

The Montreal school is also looking at how students can resume extracurricular activities, whether online or eventually in small, in-person groups. 

At the Université de Montréal, "the courses that can be held remotely will be held remotely," spokesperson Geneviève O'Meara said in an interview.

"As for the rest, we will plan some courses in-person on the campus." 

She said the university will contact faculty in the coming weeks to figure out which courses need to be held in person. 

O'Meara said the school will continue to monitor the situation. She said the school made the decision so soon because it poses a logistical challenge. 

She said the university has 65,000 students on campus, including those of its affiliate schools École Polytechnique and HEC Montréal.

"And that doesn't take into account the professors and other employees, so it's like a small city within a city," O'Meara said. 

Missing face-to-face learning

Universities are among the organizations most challenged by the pandemic, because of the many people living and working in close quarters. 

But some students are unhappy with the decision.

McGill student Emma Walsh, who recently finished her first year in a law program, said online courses cannot compare to face-to-face learning. 

"It's a lot more difficult to have such a rich and personal interaction between you and the professor, and also your classmates, online. I think most students would agree, it's kind of awkward," she told CBC News. 

"Oftentimes, here are your expert professors who you really respect, and they are struggling to share their screen and it's going to take five minutes to get that sorted out." 

Emma Walsh recently finished her first year in a law program at McGill University. (Submitted by Emma Walsh)

Walsh said it is difficult for students to focus when attending courses from home and some might have trouble with the technology it takes to attend courses from home.

Walsh herself moved from New Brunswick for her education and that poses a whole other set of concerns. 

"I'm just looking at basically pouring thousands of dollars into this apartment when it's not necessary for me to be here, and also receiving a level of education via online classes which traditionally would be less expensive than in-person classes," Walsh said. 

Financial difficulties ahead

Post-secondary institutions in Quebec and across Canada were forced to close their campuses in March due to the COVID-19 health crisis, and rapidly shifted their classes online.

Robert Beauregard, the vice-rector for student affairs at Université Laval,  said the university hopes to offer a limited number of in-person options where it's impossible to learn at a distance — like laboratories and practical training in health sciences.

"To us, a course is a course, and we expect the same quality and the same great experience of interaction through distance learning," said Robert Beauregard, the vice-rector for student affairs,

Laval could be facing a drop in enrolment, notably among international students, and could be facing a deficit of $100 million, said Beauregard.

He said Quebec universities are in discussions with the Quebec government about how to lessen the impacts of the potential shortfall. 

Dawson College, a CEGEP in downtown Montreal, is also planning to do most of its teaching online this summer and fall.

Concordia University in Montreal has yet to decide on its fall semester, but in a statement Monday, said it is also looking at holding courses online. The university has developed a working group to look at the situation. 

The Université du Québec à Montréal is also weighing its options. 

In his daily news briefing Monday afternoon, Quebec Premier François Legault said it is too soon to advise universities on whether they should be holding fall courses in-person or not. 

"We hope that there'll be some teaching done physically in universities and colleges and schools but we cannot confirm if it will be possible," he said. 

"Probably during the summer we'll have an announcement on that."

Universities elsewhere in Canada have also made changes.

The University of British Columbia said larger classes will be held online, with a select number of smaller classes conducted in person in accordance with physical distancing and other guidelines.

The University of Ottawa, meanwhile, said all its classes, with some exceptions, will include a distance-learning option in September.

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With files from Deana Sumanac, Susan Campbell and The Canadian Press

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