Students question tuition increases, plans for Delta variant at Return to Campus webinar

UBC’s Return to Campus webinar on Monday morning outlined what campus will look like come September, with a focus on how health and safety guidelines will impact courses, learning spaces and in-person campus activities.

The webinar featured presentations from five UBC administrators — Chief Student Health Officer Noorjean Hassam; Vice Provost and Associate VP Faculty Planning Pam Ratner; Director of Occupational and Research Health and Safety Bruce Anderson; Associate Provost Teaching and Learning Simon Bates; and Dean and Vice Provost Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Susan Porter.

Provost and VP Academic Andrew Szeri stressed in his opening remarks that the main goal in terms of reopening is the mental and physical health and safety of students, faculty and staff.

“The good news is that we have the assurance by public health officials that universities in British Columbia can return safely to mostly in-person engagement,” he said at the event. “The most important thing you can do to protect yourself and your community is to become fully vaccinated when the opportunity is available to you.”

Students asked a plethora of questions, like whether lectures would be recorded and how UBC plans to deal with the Delta variant.

On the contagious Delta variant, Szeri said the university’s response will be guided by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training and informed by public health.

“That might mean changes in the way we handle masks and vaccines or other aspects in the way we run the university, but we will be very careful to keep up with the latest science and act accordingly,” he added.

One student asked why the Board of Governors raised tuition, despite the impacts of the pandemic.

Szeri said that a combination of additional costs, loss of revenue and the responsibility to have a balanced budget led to this decision.

“The university has spent a lot of extra funding on student support, things like emergency student bursaries, additional expenditure for IT infrastructure to enable remote teaching, extra teaching assistant support and in many other ways,” he added.

Students also had questions about course delivery and hybrid learning. Bates said there will be 800 courses held fully online — approximately a five-fold increase from the number of online sections pre-pandemic.

Physical spaces will be cleaned daily, and Ratner said classrooms will be filled to “the capacity that's been recommended by our public health experts.” Szeri added that UBC has carefully examined and improved the ventilation systems for all teaching spaces on campus.

On lecture recordings, Bates said he was hopeful that professors will provide notes and learning materials to students, but lecture recordings and live streams will also be a matter of professor discretion.

“Faculty understand some of the challenges that students will find as we enter the fall semester and are committed to finding ways for students to be able to continue their learning,” said Bates.

Watch the full recording of the webinar here.