For universities and colleges in British Columbia, the return of students to class comes with a few tests
Post-secondary administrators face challenges such as preventing the spread of COVID-19 and keeping people safe through in-person learning
This month marks the first time that post-secondary institutions in British Columbia have opened their doors for in-person learning since the start of the pandemic. While many students and faculty are excited to connect in person, preparing for this feedback has not been an easy task for administrators.
Not everyone is happy with the BC government’s efforts to get students back to class. In an open letter to Anne Kang, Minister of Higher Education and Vocational Training, a group including post-secondary unions, faculty associations and student societies called on the province to ensure the return is as safe. as possible.
“I think we all agreed that this was something we absolutely had to do for the mental health and well-being of our students,” said Joy Johnson, president and vice-president of SFU. “But over time, I think we all started to realize that there would be a number of safety issues that we had to face.”
The provincial government advised public universities and colleges to prepare for face-to-face classes in March. At that time, there was great optimism that the number of cases would drop over the next six months, especially when the vaccines were rolled out.
Fortunately, the number of daily cases has not reached more than 1,000 since April. However, with the Delta variant causing a steady increase in cases over the summer, some schools have always taken extra precautions in addition to following public health guidelines.
UBC, for example, recently announced a “rapid test” program that requires unvaccinated or partially vaccinated students, faculty, and staff to get tested for COVID-19. After collecting enough data, the university will determine other steps such as frequency of testing.
“What we’re asking our people to do is report their vaccine, and that will give us a much better idea of the field requirements for the rapid testing program,” says Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs. from UBC.
Too close for more comfort?
The return to in-person learning after 18 months has also made it difficult for schools to make people feel safe in the same room again. After all, it’s not the easiest transition back to “normal” after being in isolation for as long as some people have been.
“It’s very clear to me that people are at very different stages of anxiety around COVID,” SFU’s Johnson said. “We’re also trying to navigate this area and support people the best we can and bring them with them so they can feel comfortable going back to their jobs on campus.”
SFU adopted a communicable disease overview at the end of July. This plan encourages those involved in the university to “stay home when sick, wear masks when public health recommends it, practice hand hygiene and cough / sneeze etiquette” and “To follow other advice that may be provided specific to the epidemic”. He also asks faculty and staff to complete SFU’s Safety Orientation Training Module.
Going forward, university and college administrators must be prepared to adapt to whatever might happen during the school year. “We continue to navigate whatever the provincial health officer provides in terms of direction and regulation,” said UNBC Acting President Geoff Payne. “We expect a fall term to be as normal as possible. With the planning that we have in place, we have plans B, C and D if we need to pivot.
No one knows what this normal will look like, but it will be interesting to see how things play out. The fall term is scheduled to run through mid-December in most schools in British Columbia.