Victoria/New Westminster – Post-secondary students across British Columbia are hopeful for the chance to safely return to campus this Fall. Most students at colleges, universities, and institutes across the province have been learning online since the pandemic began last March.

On Monday, Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer, advised that institutions be prepared for a full return to on-campus education this September. This is a hopeful sign for the majority of students who have been off campus for the last year.

Students have been disproportionately affected by the COVID–19 pandemic. Without the resources and supports offered by employers to remote workers, students have struggled to adapt to an online learning environment while managing the increased health, employment, and personal financial precarity caused by the pandemic.

“Today’s announcement is welcome news to so many students who have struggled to be successful in an untested online learning environment while managing the health, safety and economic realities of the pandemic,” said Tanysha Klassen, Chairperson of the BC Federation of Students, “we welcome the opportunity to engage with public health officials and the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training to ensure that the return to school is a positive experience for the entire post-secondary system.”

In June, the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training assembled a cross-section of representatives from public post-secondary institutions to prepare the Go-Forward Guidelines, designed to help BC’s post-secondary sector operate safely during the pandemic. The BC Federation of Students participated in this consultation and was pleased with the resulting guidelines, which were released last July.

“Students are eager to return to the classrooms so long as it is safe to do so,” said Klassen, “I and the BC Federation of Students are optimistic that student’s needs will continue to be taken into account every step of the way.”

The BC Federation of Students represents over 170,000 students at 15 universities, colleges, and institutes in every region of BC. Together, these students advocate for a well-funded system of post-secondary education in BC that is affordable and accessible for all students.

From UFV:

The University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) is planning for in-person instruction and activities beginning September 2021 after Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry and the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training (AEST), Anne Kang, announced yesterday a return for post-secondary institutions across BC this Fall.

As UFV begins to plan for September, the university’s priorities remain the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and our community. At every step, UFV will be working with provincial health and safety organizations to ensure a safe, healthy, and organized return to campus in the Fall.

“Students, faculty and staff have demonstrated heart, tenacity, and dedication under tough circumstances,” said Dr. Joanne MacLean, President of UFV. “UFV is very appreciative of the community’s support of students and the university over the past year and while the roll-out of vaccines and this announcement provide encouragement for the Fall, the pandemic is not yet over. We must all still work together diligently to curb the spread of COVID-19 and to begin to plan our post-pandemic future.” 

The university has begun planning to make the transition to safe, broad-scale, face-to-face learning in our classrooms and activities on campuses.

UFV and other post-secondary institutions will work in partnership with the BC Centre for Disease Control, WorkSafeBC, the Provincial Health Office, and the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training to update these high-level sector plans. UFV will also partner with the Fraser Health Authority and WorkSafeBC to develop more detailed safety plans for the university.

In the coming weeks, Go-Forward Guidelines released by the province will, as they have over the course of the last year, help provide an overview of how things will look for an anticipated return in September.

This change will be welcomed by many, but some may find it stressful or unsettling. UFV will continue to provide support resources for students, faculty, and staff and will closely adhere to all future and existing health orders and processes. Continuing to take these measures will help the UFV community stay healthy and will make the return in the Fall that much more of a celebration.

The Provincial announcement text:

Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training, has issued the following statement regarding post-secondary education in fall 2021:

“Today, Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, advised the presidents of all public colleges and universities to prepare for a full return to on-campus education this September. 

“This year has been incredibly hard, and I’ve heard from many students, faculty and staff who are eager to return to campus when it is safe. That’s why I’m encouraged by Dr. Henry’s advice that a return to in-person instruction can be done safely this fall for all students, staff and faculty. In fact, it’s important to do so for people’s well-being.

“I also know some people will be feeling nervous. Your safety is our top priority.  At every step, we’re going to be working with Dr. Henry and all our partners to make sure the right measures are in place to keep people safe.

“This is just the beginning of a process.  Last year, my ministry worked closely with health and safety experts, student groups, labour, Indigenous partners and post-secondary institutions to develop the Go Forward Guidelines that enabled the current hybrid model of post-secondary education: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/post-secondary-education/institution-resources-administration/aest_postsecgoforwardguidelines.pdf

“In the coming weeks, we will use that same successful process, working with Dr. Henry’s office, the Steering Committee for the post-secondary COVID-19 Go-Forward Guidelines and experts from across the post-secondary sector to plan for a safe return to in-person learning this fall.

“The guidelines will provide high-level guidance to post-secondary institutions for a safe resumption of on-campus learning. Institutions will then work with their local medical health officer and WorkSafeBC to develop more detailed safety plans for each institution.

“It has been a challenging year for post-secondary students, faculty and staff. I would like to acknowledge the significant efforts public colleges and universities made to continue meeting the needs of students during the pandemic, while successfully preventing the spread of COVID-19 on B.C. campuses.

“While we update the guidelines to ensure on-campus safety, I encourage students and families to start planning for in-person instruction on a campus of their choice in September.”

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