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SAIT students return to smaller classes as temporary layoffs announced and some programs deferred

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WATCH: Calgary students are returning to a different-looking campus at SAIT this week. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, because of physical-distancing requirements, half of the programs have been moved online, some classes have been deferred and several staff members have been laid off – Sep 7, 2020

The SAIT campus in Calgary will be a quiet place this month as far fewer students go to class.

SAIT Campus Centre and the bookstore are among the buildings closed.

Only students and employees on campus for classes have access to classrooms and labs, and student services remain online, including the library.

“Campus buildings are closed. Club events can’t be held. We can’t have orientation events,” said Tim Holowachuk, a director with SAIT Students’ Association (SAITSA).

“All of those social programs are effectively shuttered for the moment. While we are trying to find things that respect social distancing guidelines and give at least a semblance of community for students, we are finding it really tough.”

Tuition increases

Holowachuk said the group has been asking for a deferral on tuition increases this fall.

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Read more: U of C tuition hikes approved, increases expected over the next 3 years

“The fact that tuition increases are still going ahead for an arguably lower-quality education, it frustrates and frightens me,” Holowachuk said.

In October 2019, the government of Alberta ended the five-year tuition freeze, allowing for increases between seven and 10 per cent per year.

Smaller classes

The number of students in classrooms will be reduced by half in most cases to accommodate physical distancing. The use of shared tools is discouraged.

“We naturally have smaller class sizes to begin with,” said Reva Bond Ramsden, dean of the SAIT School of Construction.

“We had to be very selective with the activities that were happening face to face to try to reduce that exposure time wherever possible.”

Bond Ramsden said over 50 per cent of classes are now online, varying from program to program.

“We were able to accommodate for the social distancing so there is a six-foot bubble around each student. So we have reduced class sizes roughly by half in most cases and a little bit more in some other spaces because of the nature of the activity,” Bond Ramsden said.

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She said the silver lining is that the use of technology is being fast-tracked.

“There is a lot of demo activity that can take place online — 3D and virtual reality technology — so we have made good use of that and it certainly accelerated where we wanted to be so that’s exciting that we had that opportunity,” Bond Ramsden said.

Deferred programs

But programs like welding and cooking require students to get hands-on learning, and the reduced class sizes mean some students won’t be attending this fall.

“Students have just had their programs deferred to January or even deferred to next year,” Holowachuk said.

Read more: Increase in enrolment at Mount Royal University despite move to online classes

SAIT spokesperson Chris Gerritsen said that some first-year fall classes have been deferred because the priority is to finish “winter completions” — students whose classes were deferred during the initial COVID-19 peak and full campus shutdown.

Gerritsen said for a small percentage of programs, SAIT made the decision to defer the programs until further notice due to physical distancing restrictions and costs.

“SAIT is following [Alberta Health Services] and government guidelines for post-secondary institutions, which are not the same as the K-12 guidelines — as restrictions are lifted, SAIT will look at increasing capacity on campus,” Gerritsen said in an email.
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For the most part, Gerritsen said enrolment with programs that are running has “remained steady.”

He said there are decreases on the international student side due to travel restrictions but there are still close to 800 international students enrolled — some in Calgary and some studying from their home countries.

Layoffs

Several staff members have been laid off as the new school year resumes. Gerritsen said health restrictions have caused the closure of some areas like athletics.

“To that end, in areas where work has been reduced, we have issued temporary layoffs. The intention is for employees to return when work resumes,” Gerritsen said.

According to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees,  SAIT laid off six support workers, all of whom are AUPE members.

Read more: SAIT to eliminate 230 positions following Alberta budget cuts

Bond Ramsden said school administration and faculty have learned a lot from their experiences when classes first went online due to the pandemic earlier this year.

“I think our students that experienced March and April and stuck through it with us will be pleasantly surprised in what is possible and what they will see in their classes for the fall,” Bond Ramsden said.

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Apprentice programs started on Monday. Sept. 8 marks the first day of regular classes.

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