Waterloo Region colleges, universities preparing for more in-person learning this fall

On the back of the provincial announcement that universities and colleges should prepare for a mostly normal fall, post-secondary institutions in Waterloo Region are working to finalize plans for a post-pandemic semester.

Monday, the province announced physical distancing and capacity limits will not be necessary for post-secondary institutions. The only COVID-19 safety measure required by the province is mask-wearing indoors.

Local colleges and universities are looking to increase in-person attendance this September, but not by much.

"Probably we won't have more than I would say seven or eight thousand, not the 25,000, because I don't think we'll be able to meet public health guidelines," said Conestoga College president John Tibbits.

At Conestoga College, thousands of students have still been learning in-person, with hands-on training a necessity for many skilled trade classes.

Still, it's been a fraction of the normal 25,000 students who pack on campus in a normal semester. This past winter, only 6,000 were on campus for face-to-face learning.

Tibbits said the safety of students and staff is the college's number one priority, adding Waterloo region's history as a Delta variant hotspot is a factor.

"I understand the government sending this out because they're dealing with the whole province and some parts of the province are very safe and others aren’t," he said.

Social gathering spots like the cafeteria and fitness centre at Conestoga College will likely remain closed in the fall.

At the University of Waterloo, officials are planning to keep their planned hybrid model in place. About 50 per cent of classes will be offered online, and 50 per cent in person.

"The news today and over the weekend means those things we can do in person have the potential to be significantly expanded," said Nick Manning, the University of Waterloo's vice president of communications.

The hope is that in-person classes and labs will see higher attendance, with clubs and extracurricular activities also expanding.

"We are delivering in-person student experience that build the connections and engagement our students have been missing as well as providing student resident, clubs, fitness facilities, and health and wellness programming," a spokesperson for Wilfrid Laurier University said in a statement.

The option for online classes at both Laurier and the University of Waterloo will not change.

"We want to be fair to our students and our employees, our faculty members who have had to plan for an academic term with great uncertainty, so we are looking at maintaining our current plan for the academic term," Manning said.