As pandemic progresses, Maritime universities plan for all possibilities next semester

For many Grade 12 students, attending college or university is intimidating at the best times. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, those supporting them through the transition say some are experiencing more anxiety than usual.

Post-secondary institutions across the Maritimes have yet to decide whether they’ll open their physical doors next semester, commit to online classes or some combination of both.

University presidents say they’re planning for all three, but that’s of little help to students who have questions now about the upcoming term.

“You have to be making plans, but the future that you’re making plans for is very unpredictable,” said University of King’s College president William Lahey. “That circumstance that we’re in is doubly so for our students.”

According to Amanda Marchand, president of the Nova Scotia School Counsellors Association, the uncertainty has heightened some of the excitement and nervousness Grade 12s are already experiencing during their final year — which has not gone according to plan.

“We’re trying to help reassure them with as much information as we have,” she said. “… But right now we’re very much operating on a short-term system, so it’s definitely a forced opportunity to concentrate on what we can control right now.”

Co-ordination between schools, teachers and the provincial education department is important, she added, and counsellors are doing their best to support students with the online tools at hand.

University of P.E.I. recruitment director Jerry Wang said he too has observed heightened anxiety among students he’s spoken with.

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This time last year, he told Global News, many students were planning the “fun and exciting” aspects of their fall semester, like orientation, but this year, concerns are different.

“Some of the students are also asking about financial questions, because right now finding part-time jobs isn’t easy and there’s a lot of logistical challenges.”

In Nova Scotia, Premier Stephen McNeil has urged post-secondary institutions not to make a hasty decision to re-open campuses.

“I don’t think anyone should try to put pressure and force and rush a decision around the health and safety of Nova Scotians,” he said Wednesday, after he was asked how long it’s fair to keep students waiting to hear universities’ plans.

St. Francis Xavier’s spokesperson, Cindy MacKenzie, said the school is preparing for in-person, on-campus classes in the fall, but has started its “contingency planning” if that is not medically advisable.

In an emailed statement to Global News, Dalhousie University’s Janet Bryson said it’s “still too early in this pandemic to make any certain decisions about the fall,” and the school will follow public health protocols.

“A task force is working on developing a university re-opening plan, determining how our operations will resume in a phased approach once it is feasible and safe to do so,” she wrote.

The university will invest in enhancing its online learning platforms as needed, she added.

Lahey at the University of King’s College assured that no matter what approach the school takes, the quality of education will continue. He also shed some light on what fees might be adjusted if students aren’t able to attend school on campus.

“The whole premise behind those ancillary fees, is that unlike tuition, which is sort of the global cost of education, they are for specific goods and services,” he explained.

“In the absence of providing those specific goods and services, those fees shouldn’t be charged, or only charged to the extent those goods and services can be provided in an online context.”

The school, he added, is also tailoring scholarships and bursaries to meet student needs during the pandemic.

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