Post-secondary students in N.B. expected to return to on-campus learning this fall

Post-secondary students in New Brunswick should expect to return to in-person, on-campus learning this fall.

"It's a very exciting thing for many students," said Sean Mackenzie, the student union president at the University of New Brunswick.

The Government of New Brunswick announced the news in a release on Wednesday.

During the 2020-21 school year, universities and colleges in the province were limited to online learning in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"With the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines expected to be available to all New Brunswick adults by early summer, we are optimistic that these institutions will be able to offer on-campus instruction safely and successfully during the 2021-22 academic year," said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health.

Russell says the decision was made in the best interest of everyone involved.

"The virus and its variants must still be taken seriously, however, we realize the pandemic has had negative effects on the mental health and financial stability of students and staff," said Russell. "Permitting a safe return to in-person education with continued adherence to public health measures is in everyone's best interests."

Mackenzie says he agrees with government's decision to return to on-campus learning.

"A lot of students have felt very isolated over this last year and it's going to have a major impact on the health and mental health of many students, and as well, their education," said Mackenzie.

Public health, along with post-secondary institutions in New Brunswick, continue to work closely with the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour to ensure and promote the safest possible learning environment for students.

Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., is one of very few universities that has been participating in in-person learning since September 2020.

"It means a lot to have that in-person learning environment that is safe and is following the protocols and has proven to work," said Jonathan Ferguson, who is part of the student union at Mount Allison University.

In Nova Scotia, St. Francis Xavier University says they are also hoping to bring back 100 per cent of their students this fall.

"We are in a global pandemic but at the same time, let's get ready, let's open in September, let's do it right," said Trevor Holder, New Brunswick's Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour.

According to Holder, each school is required to have a COVID-19 operational plan in place that has been approved by public health.

"Our post-secondary institutions have done an excellent job of adapting to the challenges of the pandemic,” said Holder. "We are confident that they are up to the next challenge, which is holding in-person classes once again. Through the ongoing collaborative work between the department, WorkSafeNB, Public Health and the institutions, I know we are ready for this step and well-positioned to react should there be a change in circumstances over the coming months."

Holder says each post-secondary institution, which are academically and administratively independent of government, will make their own decisions on whether and when to resume in-person learning.

They will also be responsible for implementing their respective COVID-19-related safety protocols, as they were during the 2020-21 academic year.