'Time of transition': Post-secondary institutions in Manitoba looking to welcome students back this fall, with some changes

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Going to college or university this fall in Manitoba will look similar to previous years before the COVID-19 pandemic, but students should expect some changes.

Smaller class sizes and a hybrid learning model featuring in-class and virtual instruction will likely become the norm, as universities work to welcome students back this fall.

Here are the plans for several Manitoba post-secondary schools this fall.

BRANDON UNIVERSITY

Grant Hamilton, marketing and communications director with Brandon University, said they’re looking at the fall term as a “time of transition,” but they’re looking to get more people back studying and learning on campus.

“Things are looking optimistic right now with declining case counts and rising vaccine rates, and we’re aiming to skate where the puck is going to be this fall.”

Hamilton said the number of students on campus will be dependent on the specific program. He said the school of music will likely be almost entirely in-person.

“Zoom instruction does not work nearly as well, as you might imagine, when you need to be in the same room as somebody to tune your ear to what is going on with the student,” he said.

Hamilton said for some of the first-year courses in the Faculty of Arts, “There is no feasible way that we can return to in-person classes for 100, 200 person intro courses. The greater percentage there will still be remote learning.”

He said the majority of classes on campus will likely be set of 25 students or fewer to accommodate physical distancing.

RED RIVER COLLEGE

Conor Lloyd, the director of public relations at the college, said a blended term or online and in-person learning will be in place for students this fall.

“Our approach will remain flexible and responsive to expand on-campus services and supports, should public health restrictions loosen further and allow such activities to take place, while maintaining the blended delivery of our programs,” Lloyd wrote in a statement.

“Our goal is to continue to increase opportunities for all students to access on-campus activities to ensure quality learning, successful student outcomes and sufficient student engagement within a safe learning environment.”

UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA

The University of Manitoba is moving forward with a phased reopening for its fall term, with a plan for increased in-person instruction, according to a post on the university’s website.

“Classes with a proposed maximum registration of between 2 and 20 students may be considered for in-person classes, as determined by the various academic units,” the university said, adding labs will be limited to no more than 25 people, or to the COVID room capacity limit, whichever is smaller.

The university said it is doing this to balance “the desire for in-person connection and instruction with the health and safety of our community.”

UNIVERSITY OF WINNIPEG

The University of Winnipeg is also looking to welcome students back in September and is targeting 40 per cent of classes to be in-person during the fall term, along with the majority of courses during the winter term being taught in person.

“With vaccination rates rising and the pandemic’s third wave receding, we anticipate a back-to-school experience that looks and feels much more open and ‘normal,’” the university said in a post on its website.

The U of W said remote learning options will also be available.

WILL VACCINES BE MANDATORY FOR STUDENTS

The post-secondary institutions said vaccines would not be mandatory for students, but are strongly encouraging people to get vaccinated.

“Vaccination is our best protection from falling ill to COVID-19 and the surest path to a safe and successful 2021-22 academic year—in person,” the University of Winnipeg posted on its website.

Lloyd said any decision to require vaccinations on campus at RRC would be made following consultation with public health.

“We are following the guidance of Public Health and encouraging all Manitobans to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible,” he said, adding the college recently hosted a pop-up vaccination clinic.

The University of Manitoba said, “There is, unfortunately, no way to ensure students, staff, or faculty are vaccinated. The vaccination program is the responsibility of the federal and provincial governments.”

Hamilton said Brandon University is not planning to introduce a vaccine mandate at this time.

“We’ve been watching the vaccine uptake rates, which are really positive in Manitoba,” he said.

Hamilton added the university has launched an initiative where students who are fully vaccinated are eligible to win prizes.