Universities across Atlantic Canada hope to resume normal operations this fall, but top administrators remain unsure what kind of restrictions will be in place come September.
Restrictions could limit the number of people allowed on campus and which courses could be taught in person.
Allister Surette, the chair of the Association of Atlantic Universities, said university presidents thought it was time to issue a statement to students that their institutions would likely be open in September and that they would be safe places to be.
“We just want to assure the students that we will do all that we possibly can to ensure their health and safety for this coming September,” he said. “So, what that really means is that we will definitely abide by all the public health directives that will be given at that time.
“This will be different. Classrooms will be different, student life will be different, research and campus gatherings, it will all depend on physical distancing.”
Physical distancing will be a factor
Other on-campus offerings such as bars and restaurants, as well as sports venues, will also have to abide by physical distancing rules.
Surette said although planning is underway, there are many uncertainties surrounding what campus life could look like in the fall.
“In terms of the classroom, it’s still not quite clear,” he said. “We’re hoping for the best in terms of some type of campus presence. The worst case would be that we could not be on campus.
“We’ll do what we can to offer what we’re normally doing, in maybe a different way, in September.”
Universities are concerned travel restrictions could limit the number of international students starting their studies this fall.
Concerns about out-of-province enrolment
They are also concerned restrictions may have an impact on the number of out-of-province students coming east to continue their education.
But Surette said application numbers “seem good at this time.”
“We have an international [and] national reputation for high-quality education, a unique student life,” he said. “It will certainly have an effect if we can’t have students on campus.”
Fewer students would make a difficult situation even worse since the pandemic has already had an impact on university finances, according to Surette.
“In my 20-plus years as a senior administrator [at Université Sainte-Anne] it will be my first deficit budget, for sure,” he said.
Viability in question?
Surette said he hopes the current problems won’t threaten the viability of any of the association’s 16 members.
“There is much uncertainty, not only here in Atlantic Canada, but across Canada and around the world.”
He said administrators are in the process of putting together budgets and determining possible tuition and other fees.
According to Surette, universities expect restrictions will be tighter in the early fall and ease as the semester progresses.
“We’re hoping for the best,” he said. “We’re hoping that things will change in terms of directives from public health and that we can be as normal as possible.”