USask classes may stay online throughout 2021, says university president

While no official announcements have been made yet, Peter Stoicheff says it looks unlikely that classes will be in person for the spring and summer sessions and that even the fall sessions are in question.

Peter Stoicheff says return to in-person classes depends on vaccine availability

Classes for most students have been conducted online since March, and may continue to be online throughout 2021. (University of Saskatchewan)

Students attending the University of Saskatchewan may be learning from home throughout 2021, university president Peter Stoicheff says.

While no official announcements have been made yet, Stoicheff told CBC's Saskatoon Morning that it looks unlikely that classes will be in person for the spring and summer sessions.

"Starting in May, it looks like we'll be in the same kind of situation," Stoicheff said.

Studying from home may even extend into the fall. 

Stoicheff said whether or not students return to the campus will depend on vaccine availability, distribution and efficacy. 

"I can't predict with certainty, but I think that by [May] we should be able to make an announcement about what the fall is going to look like." 

Ideally, he said the university would like to make the decision about the fall session by May because it will give students and faculty time to plan.

"Anything much later than May would be very problematic for our thousand or so faculty who will be really anxious to know whether they're delivering their programs, doing all of their teaching and all of their research in person or remotely."

Classes for most students have been conducted online since March, and are going to continue to be online for the winter session.

Moving online a 'big shift'

In 2020, the university moved 26,000 students from face-to-face classes to remote learning.

"That's been a big, big shift," Stoicheff said.

The pandemic has had a financial impact on the university, due to the loss of revenue from food services and residence rooms, as well as a weak stock market where the university holds investments, Stoicheff said.

And yet, the move to online courses didn't impact enrollment numbers nearly as much as the university predicted.

Stoicheff said the university expected a 15 per cent drop in enrolment but instead saw a two per cent increase.

Worldwide reach

Moving online means students have been missing out on the social aspect of getting a university education, and some researchers were prevented from getting back into their labs.

But Stoicheff said there have been gains, as well, including developing better online systems that will help people in remote communities access a post-secondary education.

"Suddenly we have the capacity to allow many, many more people access to a lot of the things we do, including our programming. And, in fact, that that's true for people worldwide."

(CBC News Graphics)

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Ashleigh Mattern is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon and CBC Saskatchewan.

With files from Saskatoon Morning


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