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University, college presidents hopeful some students can return to classrooms soon

Institutions still looking at a mix of in person, remote learning for 2021-22
20200301-Algoma University, winter, stock-DT-01
Algoma University. File photo, Darren Taylor/SooToday

Algoma University and Sault College are both cautiously optimistic about the return of at least some of their students to campus after learning remotely from home in the Sault, elsewhere in Ontario, Canada and internationally for so long throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We do anticipate our students being back in the fall but obviously we’re going to follow the advice of Algoma Public Health,” said Ron Common, Sault College president, speaking at a funding announcement held via Zoom Friday by Sault MPP and Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano.

Romano announced $6.3 million in funding to help Algoma University and Sault College offset pandemic related costs, such as those linked to online learning, purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) and enhanced cleaning procedures at the two postsecondary institutions.

$4.8 million will go to Algoma University, $1.5 million goes to Sault College.

The money comes from a larger pot of $106.4 million in Ontario government funding, specifically the Postsecondary Education Support Fund, to assist postsecondary institutions who have been financially hit by COVID-19. 

“As far as the funding (is concerned), it will certainly continue to help us as we decide how much social distancing we actually have to have as we structure our timetables,” Common said.

“This spring we’ll see an increase in on campus activity,” said Asima Vezina, Algoma University president and vice-chancellor.

“We have a number of courses planned for on campus delivery and then in the fall they’ll increase again. We still see a number of formats coming, some virtual, some on campus, and some will probably be some kind of a hybrid format depending on how the pandemic and the vaccination schedules are progressing at each of our three campuses,” Vezina said. 

“We do think, this fall, we’ll also see quite a bit of activity in things like athletics and events,” Vezina said, adding the university foresees costs associated with that extra activity as increased health and safety protocols are put in place on campus.

International student enrolment is critical for both schools.

“We have a lot of measures that have been put in place, both by the federal and provincial governments, to allow students to travel. Some of them are starting. Other provisions have been put in place where students can continue to study in their home country (remotely) and they’ve increased the amount of time that they can do that. It’s a real combination. We’re trying to remain as flexible as we can. We’re still in a period of uncertainty. Countries are also dealing with vaccination rates and travel restrictions,” Vezina said.

Vezina stated Algoma’s 2021-22 academic year will be one of transition, aiming to safely bring students back to campus, while also ensuring the safety and success of those studying remotely from abroad in a COVID world.

Common said Sault College also plans to have a remote learning format for international students in the fall, as some cannot leave their countries due to COVID travel restrictions.

However, Common said “we expect an increasing number of students will be able to get their visas approved and be able to get to Sault Ste. Marie.”