Nfld. & Labrador

MUN pushes back winter start date, while CNA to see half of students back on campus

In a press release Wednesday, Memorial University says the beginning of the winter semester will be pushed back by five days, with online classes now set to begin on Jan. 11.

Delay made to help students through stressful time, MUN says

Memorial University provost Mark Abrahams, pictured here in March, says the move to delay a return to classes was made to help deal with the stressful times. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Memorial University will delay the beginning of its virtual winter 2021 semester, while the College of the North Atlantic is pushing on with its plan to bring 50 per cent of students back to the classroom in January.

In a press release Wednesday, MUN said the beginning of the winter semester will be pushed back five days, with online classes set to begin Jan. 11.

The move will affect the St. John's and Grenfell campuses along with the Marine Institute, except for Marine Institute diploma of technology and technical certificate students, who have a different academic schedule.

The new date also doesn't apply to medical, nursing or engineering students, who will return on Jan. 6.

MUN provost Mark Abrahams said he hopes the delay will help reduce stress for students and give teachers more time to prepare for the upcoming semester.

Newfoundland and Labrador's two major post-secondary institutions are taking different approaches to returning to classes in the upcoming winter semester. (CBC)

"I know that right now many of you are exhausted and feeling strain," Abrahams wrote. "I heard concerns during our employee town hall in late November, and received comments along the same vein from students."

'The right direction'

The delay to the start of the winter semester is being welcomed by some students, including Jasper Pritchard. 

"I think it's a good step in the right direction," he told CBC News on Wednesday. 

Jasper Pritchard is a student at MUN in St. John's. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

He says the year so far has been a struggle, noting it's been a big adjustment moving to online learning, and he isn't doing as well as he had hoped academically. 

But, if there is a bright spot, Pritchard said it's been most of the professors. 

"The profs have been super-helpful … and as much as they've been struggling, they've been very open and honest with us, and I think when we have had struggles most of my profs have been really, really forthcoming with trying to help us out," he said. 

The announcement marks the second time the school has delayed a return as a result of the pandemic, as the school altered the plan to bring some non-academic staff back to campus last month due to rising COVID-19 cases.

In an email to CBC News, MUN says the delay will continue through the holiday break with a decision pending in the new year. The plan to keep students learning online during the winter semester will also continue, with the school hoping to bring some students back to campus in the spring semester.

CNA welcoming half its students back

Meanwhile, the College of the North Atlantic is starting 2021 with a very different plan — and will welcome back over half its student body for in-person learning this winter, barring changes to public health orders.

According to an email to CBC News, the school's academic learning plan will see about 50 per cent of students on campus in the next semester, including programs in the schools of engineering technology, health sciences and industrial trades.

Forty per cent of students will remain online, with seven per cent of students receiving a combination of in-person and online classes.

Masks or face shields will be mandatory at College of the North Atlantic campuses, including the Prince Phillip Drive campus in St. John's. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

As part of the return to in-person classes, a mask or face shield will be required on all campuses with COVID-19 screening protocols at all entrances. Access to facilities will be limited, with use of buildings by outside groups not permitted for the time being.

Campuses with residences will be limited to single occupancy with enhanced cleaning and visitor restrictions in place.

"As long as conditions permit, we look forward to welcoming more of our students back to our campuses in the new year and will continue to work closely with the Department of Health and Community Services and chief medical officer of health to ensure our procedures are as up to date as possible when it comes to public health guidelines," CNA spokesperson Michelle Barry wrote.

While CNA is moving ahead with bringing students back to campus, MUN says the two schools can't be compared in terms of campus density.

"It is not feasible at this time for us to bring more than 50 [per cent] of our students to our campuses," the school said in an email.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Adam Walsh, Alex Kennedy and Katie Breen


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