Skip to content

Uncertain fall ahead for colleges and universities as pandemic continues

TORONTO — Canadian colleges and universities are developing contingency plans to deliver classes in the fall, as students prepare for an uncertain semester due to COVID-19.

TORONTO — Canadian colleges and universities are developing contingency plans to deliver classes in the fall, as students prepare for an uncertain semester due to COVID-19.

The president of Universities Canada said what classes look like in September will depend greatly on where the school is located and what local public health officials advise.

"It may depend on the program of study, the year of study," Paul Davidson said. "Universities are also looking at flipping classrooms so what would typically have been a large classroom with small seminars, might become smaller classrooms where you do the online reading in advance and then you get small classrooms."

The minister in charge of Ontario's post-secondary education system said that the situation surrounding the pandemic is changing daily, making it hard to offer a definitive vision of what campuses in the province will look like in September.

But Ross Romano is anticipating an increase in post-pandemic enrolment and said the institutions will be an important part of the province's economic recovery.

"I think if you look at what happened after the global recession in 2008-2009, you saw a huge increase in enrolment in all of our institutions," he said. "I think we're going to be dealing with that at a more significant level this time. But there's no way to predict exactly what's going to happen come the fall."

Colleges and universities across Canada were forced to quickly shift classes online when the pandemic forced them to shutter campuses in March.

Romano lauded the institutions for salvaging the year and providing research know-how to aid that province's pandemic response.

Decisions about the fall term have not yet been made, even as some schools in the United States have decided their fall classes will be online, he said.

Romano said the schools are looking at scenarios which include regular in-person classes, just online classes, or a hybrid option which would see the year start online and gradually return to in-person sessions.

"All cards are on the table," he said. 

The president of Colleges and Institutes Canada said schools will need more resources to improve the quality of their courses if they are forced to move all of them online.

"It's one thing when you finish the semester online, but when you do a full semester it means that there will need to be a (higher) quality," Denise Amyot said. "It's harder when you are in a technical program because a lot of what we do is the hands-on."

At Toronto's York University, which has over 53,000 students, planning is underway on a variety of contingencies, said Lisa Philipps, provost and vice-president academic.

"We're going to have enhanced online offerings and we're going to need to be able to quickly pivot in the event that circumstances change for the better or worse," she said.

Janet Morrison, president of Sheridan College, said that school is actively looking at what supports students will require when they return to class, either in-person or online.

"Will we have international students and can they get here? Will they need to quarantine? Will they have the economic means to enrol? When they do get here, what programs are going to be of interest?" she said. "I'm quite mindful, this pandemic is going to be a defining moment for young people."

Many students, especially those headed to college or university for the first time, are wondering what life on-campus will be like.

"If we get hit with a second wave, like they're saying, and we would have to continue (studying) online, it's devastating," said Renee Richard, a Grade 12 student in Oshawa, Ont.

Richard, who is set to study nursing at Queen's University, was also planning to live in a campus residence. She isn't sure if that will happen now.

"When you're going away, it's not just missing classes, then you're missing out on staying in residence and meeting all those new people for your first year," she said. 

Marlowe Kemp, 17, will graduate high school this spring and plans to study emergency service fundamentals at Durham College in September. She's concerned about starting her program online.

"I feel like we'll be missing out on that person-to-person experience in our first year, which is pretty important, because it kind of sets us up for the rest of our college experience," she said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2020.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

Looking for National News? viewed on a mobile phone

Check out Village Report - the news that matters most to Canada, updated throughout the day.  Or, subscribe to Village Report's free newsletter: a compilation of the news you need to know, sent to your inbox at 6AM.