A University of Alberta vice-president said he does not expect to see a complete return of students to campus this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Andrew Sharman, vice-president of facilities and operations and executive lead for the university’s COVID-19 public health response team, said that while most people are hoping for a return to normal, he said it is highly unlikely the university will return to 100 per cent in-person.
Instead, Sharman said that the university is considering three different scenarios for the Fall 2020 semester:
- Limited in-person instruction with a general return to normal research and with the majority of international students in attendance
- Limited in-person instruction, non-essential research allowed with no international students in attendance
- A continuation of virtual learning and only continuing with essential research
Sharman said the main factors that would guide which scenario the university picks for the fall include public health orders in relation to mass gatherings, which would dictate class sizes, and the re-opening of borders, which would facilitate the return of new and returning international students.
He said there are 38,000 students on the north campus, 1,000 students at Campus Saint-Jean and 1,000 at the Augustana campus.
“Are we able to get back to those sort of groupings? Even if people are talking about getting herd immunity, what are the implications to those with compromised immune systems, both students, staff and faculty?” he said.
“I just don’t see this fall being what we’d had in September 2019.”
Sharman said the university also mulled whether the academic year could be delayed by one month but it would be a challenge logistically.
“You have the Faculty of Engineering on a three-semester year so what are the impacts on that next year? Does that then compress their summer term? So it’s not as simple as all or nothing.”
He said if the university decides to continue with remote learning, a decision will be made soon but that it could also change.
Instructional fees were reduced for the spring and summer semester since students could not access libraries and athletic facilities. But the vice-president said it is too early to say whether tuition and other student fees will be adjusted for the fall semester.
“One of the challenges we are facing is there are significant fixed costs regardless of whether something is being used or not. But as we moved forward with how we’re going to teach and the cost of doing so, we’ll certainly review our cost structure,” Sharman said.
Spokespersons for both NAIT and MacEwan University say they are reviewing their options for the fall semester.