Ontario’s colleges and universities are running online courses and handing out alternate projects or take-home exams to replace traditional exams as they deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
And they have already begun looking at options for this fall should the situation not improve.
Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano said Tuesday he is focused on the short-term right now, when asked if the fall semester could be online only if social distancing is still necessary.
“Right now, we remain focused on addressing the current immediate needs within the sector,” Romano said. “We have effectively been able to move all of our institutions into online learning … With respect to what the future summer and potentially fall semester hold, we continue to work together with our post-secondary education providers.”
Romano said he speaks almost daily with college and university presidents and is “working very closely with them to determine what are the next steps with respect to … (the) summer term, as well as the following fall term … We’re addressing the immediate needs, and we’re certainly continuing to focus on the medium and long-range forecasts as well.”
Colleges and universities across the province have shut down in-person classes, with courses moving online. Now the exam period is about to start.
Students will still earn degrees and diplomas, though spring commencement ceremonies have either been postponed or cancelled.
On Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford noted recent government announcements included a six-month grace period on student loan repayments.
Romano said “for all students who are presently, who have graduated and are presently repaying student loans, as well as those who are about to graduate or have recently graduated and are paying student loans, they will have a six-month deferral. This is no interest, no payments and no collections. And I’m very happy that we are working together in unity with the federal government to provide these services.”
He said the province will also provide $25 million to all 45 post-secondary institutions to help them cover COVID-19 related costs.
Catherine Dunne, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, said university students are concerned about affordability and she welcomed the OSAP changes “as a really great step that helped ease graduates’ and upcoming graduates’ anxieties.”
However, she is worried about their summer job prospects, as students often spend the summer earning money to afford tuition.
As well, OSAP typically factors in a standard amount that students and their parents are expected to contribute, which will have to change given the blow the economy has taken, she added.
“It’s too early to tell what’s going to come for the fall semester,” said Dunne, a student at Western University. “We’re trying to be optimistic — but nobody really knows right now.”
John Doerksen, Western’s vice-provost of academic programs, said the university has come up with a number of alternate ways to assess students this term in the hopes of providing a numerical grade for as many as possible.
Students, however, also have the option of switching to a pass/fail system and will be allowed to drop courses at the end of the semester without academic penalty.
He said the admissions process for the incoming class this fall are moving forward and the university has already made offers.
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“We are in the early stages of that planning process,” on what happens in the fall, he added. “We haven’t come to any decisions, but we are certainly beginning to plan for various scenarios. It’s only prudent — we don’t know how long the current COVID-19 pandemic will last, nor do we know if there will be a second wave.”
He said the university “is planning for a number of different scenarios — everything from it goes back to normal in September — which would be incredible — or that maybe things linger until the middle of the term, or maybe it affects the entire fall term.
“We will definitely have a very robust plan and strategy in place.”