Students facing uncertainty as universities prepare to announce fall plans

As New Brunswick universities gear up to announce the structure of fall classes, international and out-of-province students are facing an uncertain future. If universities decide to do a mix of online and on-campus instruction, as Mount Allison has recently announced, students could be stuck doing online classes even though that's not what they expected when they applied.But choosing to defer could mean finishing classes later than anticipated.And by the time September comes, a student's home country or home province may be experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 and they may not feel comfortable leaving loved ones behind. "There's just a lot of uncertainty right now," said Raven-Lee Mills, an international student from Jamaica studying at the University of New Brunswick. Mills is going into her fifth year of software engineering at UNB. In March, she decided it was safest for her to stay in Fredericton because she's immunocompromised and she was tied into a lease.Like most Canadian universities, UNB is in the process of hammering out the details of its plan for fall classes. UNB, St. Thomas University and Mount Allison University are expected to make a detailed announcement regarding how classes will be structured on June 1. Depending on what's announced, university plans could force some, like Mills, to defer. When the announcement comes, Mills will likely have to decide if she's willing to risk going on campus for class or willing to pay international tuition prices — about $16,000 at UNB, double domestic tuition — for online learning. "I really want to graduate, but also I am vulnerable. I could be putting my life potentially at risk."Universities could open residences earlyGeorge MacLean, UNB's vice president academic, said the university will be taking "every measure necessary" to ensure the health and safety for students and staff in the fall. Those measures could include physical distancing on campus, restricted access to labs and a more rigorous cleaning schedule. Even though it would be complicated to open up residence early to allow students from abroad or out of province to self-isolate for two weeks, UNB is considering that option.STU is also considering opening dorms early. But, if travel restrictions aren't lifted, international students may not even be able to arrive on campus."If the province does not permit international travel, then travel permits for students for the fall won't of course be advised. So that's the number one issue we're dealing with right now," MacLean said.Immigration Canada is still processing study permits, although it's warning there may be delays.But that's not the only problem international students could run into. The processing centre in a student's home country may have closed operations because of COVID-19, making it more difficult to obtain a Visa, especially for those with poor internet or phone service.There are about 1,300 international students between UNB's Fredericton and Saint John campuses.Students worried about moneyMills said several international students have expressed concern about affording rent and tuition. Few summer job options because of COVID-19 have left some international students without work. UNB's International Students' Society released a survey on their Facebook page recently, which 55 students responded to.  Mills said about 60 per cent of international students responded that they no longer have access to supporting funds that they would normally have to be able to study in Canada, such as parental help or personal savings. "That is also a very big concern, especially going forward with the looming economic impact of the pandemic as well," Mills said.She's heard from some students who would like to see a lower tuition rate for international students, if they have to take online classes. Students at other universities across Canada have also been calling for decreased tuition because of COVID-19.UNB is not considering reducing tuition. "It wouldn't permit us to be able to provide the resources for our programming if we were to reduce tuition," MacLean said. "I'm not sure that it sends the right message to say that this type of delivery is worth something less than that type of delivery."STU has not discussed lower tuition rates yet, said Ryan Sullivan, STU's associate vice president enrolment management.Students considering deferrals UNB couldn't confirm the number of people deferring, but said it is quite low so far.  "Most students I think are waiting another week for our announcement about what the term will look like," MacLean said.Mount A said it hasn't seen a significant change in deferrals.About 14 students have asked to defer their admission offer from STU so far, which is typical, Sullivan said. "Depending on what happens with borders, that would be the difference for our international and out of province students as far as deferring till January or to the following year." Students have the option to defer up until the start of the academic year. No fee is charged for deferring.

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