Public Health to review plan to return students to campuses this fall

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Saint Mary's University in Halifax moved to online learning this year. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Saint Mary's University in Halifax moved to online learning this year. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

The Nova Scotia government is hoping to find a way to return campus life to something closer to normal in September for students planning to attend one of the province's 10 universities.

The deputy minister of advanced education, Duff Montgomerie, told a committee of the Nova Scotia Legislature Tuesday that his department had been working with university administrators on a plan "to help bring the kids back to campus in the fall."

Speaking to CBC News following the meeting, the senior bureaucrat said the plan was currently being reviewed within the department and would ultimately need the go-ahead from Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health.

"If the students, by that time have their vaccines, and the epidemiology is where we want it to be, then you may have two to a room in residences and more normal food service," said Montgomerie.

Many dorm rooms were kept empty and cafeterias offered reduced meal services at almost every university in the province to try to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Montgomerie said the financial hit that resulted was one of the main reasons the province gave universities a one-time $25 million payment in January to try to cushion the blow.

St. Francis Xavier University offered more in-class courses this year than other universities in the province.
St. Francis Xavier University offered more in-class courses this year than other universities in the province.(Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

Things were more normal at Acadia University and St. Francis Xavier University, which both offered in-class and online courses.

Mongomerie praised both universities for having provided their students with a safe on-campus experience this year.

"We were so impressed with the hard work, the leadership at Acadia and St. FX did with their community," he said. "Presidents were actually going door to door, that [students] understood their responsibilities, that they would make sure that the kids quarantined and so on, and they really understood to keep the community safe."

He said townspeople in Wolfville, where Acadia is located, and Antigonish, the home of St. FX, also did their part by delivering food to students who were isolating.

"And it worked. They did a good job," he said.

Montgomerie acknowledged trying to replicate that kind of small-town co-operation and collaboration would be harder in Halifax.

"It'll be more of a challenge in the city, there's no question," he said.

Notwithstanding the current outbreak, the deputy minister said universities across the province were seeing hopeful signs for the fall.

"We have a lot of folks from outside our province looking at Nova Scotia as a safe place to be and a good place to be," he said. "Our universities, and keep in mind we're early in the game, but they're seeing a high degree of interest, particularly with domestic students."

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