Nfld. & Labrador

MUN to lift class capacity restrictions for winter semester

Memorial University is planning to lift its cap on classroom sizes for the winter semester, and bring in-person numbers back to pre-pandemic levels.

University planning to have in-person class numbers at pre-pandemic levels

Memorial University plans to uncap class sizes in the winter semester. (Mike Simms/CBC)

Memorial University plans to lift its cap on classroom sizes for the winter semester, a key step in returning students to a routine not seen on campus since the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in March 2020. 

Greg McDougall, the university's chief risk officer, said MUN officials have been hearing from students who have been struggling with the mix of online and in-person classes.

But in an interview Monday with The St. John's Morning Show, McDougall said MUN has been using the current fall semester as a period of transition after the 2020-21 academic year, which was largely virtual. 

"We know there's been challenges with student events and getting people together that is so essential as part of the student experience, but it's been tough to manage the risks of COVID," he said. 

McDougall said they're removing the 100-person classroom cap, meaning more students will be allowed inside lecture halls and larger classrooms.

As well, classes have been "deliberately planned to be more in person," rather than online.

The fall semester has about 30 per cent of its classes in person, and the remaining 70 per cent are being conducted online. But that will change, as long as everyone follows COVID-19 measures, McDougall said. 

"As we go forward into the winter semester, things are definitely going to be predominantly in person," McDougall said.

MUN students are expected to attend mostly in-person classes this winter. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Memorial has made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for students, faculty and staff who are on campus, and requires mask-wearing in indoor spaces, unless someone has a medical exemption.

McDougall said the campus community has been managing the changes well, including the use of the province's vaccine passport requirements for some campus activities. 

"Our community has been fantastic," he said. "From the vaccine mandates, to masking, to distancing — I have to say the community has come together in a very great way to manage it.

"The vaccine passports, we have to follow the public health requirements, so that means the university centre, the gym and a few of the other areas. So it's only in those areas the vaccine passport specifically applies."

According to McDougall, about 97 per cent of staff and 92 per cent of students are fully vaccinated.

Students' perspective

MUN students Patrick O'Brien and Ghazia Azam agree the mask mandate isn't so bad, after about 20 months of life under the pandemic. Other campus rules, such as physical distancing and room capacity restrictions, have been easily managed as well, both said. 

Students are beginning to look ahead at next semester, registering for classes and preparing themselves to return to campus full time. 

"It's definitely going to be a nine-to-five day, kind of day," said Azam, a third-year biochemistry student.

"There's really no online aspect of it, and that's actually something I'm kind of looking forward to."

O'Brien, a first-year engineering student, said his first semester at university is going well, even if it has been a strange one. He said he does feel burned out some days from the workload, but has made some friends along the way to help keep him on track. 

"I don't have any regrets so far," he said. 

"A lot of people say if I can get through my first two semesters then more than likely I'll continue through engineering."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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