Queen’s concerned out-of-province students will avoid campus in September

Conditions for fall “beyond our control,” Deane tells Board of Trustees

According to Deane, some surveys have revealed parents are pressuring students to stay close to home because of safety concerns.  
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At the May Board of Trustees meeting last Friday, Principal Patrick Deane said the University is concerned out-of-province students may avoid travelling to Kingston in the fall.

According to Deane, there have been several surveys conducted about the pandemic-related concerns of incoming students. He said universities have been monitoring the results to determine how prospective students are going to make decisions about their education.

“The critical issue is [incoming students are] approaching the point in which they accept offers, therefore what universities say they can offer is critically important,” Deane said.

He added that, according to survey results, financial considerations aren’t weighing heavily on students because of the recent funding efforts made by the federal government. Instead, prospective first-year students are largely concerned about their own health and safety.

According to Deane, other surveys have revealed parents are pressuring students to stay close to home because of safety concerns. 

“That has ramifications for an institution like ours, where, by far, the bulk of our students come from a distance away from Kingston,” Deane said. “[W]here they choose to go and whether they choose to go at all to university this year is going to be dependent on the level of security which they feel on the question of their personal health.”

He added that, according to the president of the University of British Columbia (UBC), the number of students who are studying at institutions outside of British Columbia and are now seeking permission to study at UBC in the fall has increased by 27 per cent.

“[T]hese are potentially our students who are choosing to stay close to home at UBC for at least a year. That would involve a loss of revenue and the physical presence of those students,” Deane said.

The University is also considering student preference for physical learning environments. Deane said incoming first-year students don’t like the prospect of online learning, while upper-year students are more comfortable with it.

“So, what you offer is going to have a very decisive impact on what students choose to do and that will in turn have great impact on our financial position [and] the overall quality of the student body,” he said.

While every Ontario university is facing the same issues right now, Deane said each institution is dealing with different associated risks. 

He said, for example, student reluctance to travel far from home in the fall will have a much greater effect on Queen’s than it will on the University of Toronto (UofT). Queen’s is considered a residential institution because the majority of students must rent accommodations nearby to attend classes, whereas many students are more capable of living at home and commuting to campus at UofT. 

As remote learning is viewed as a liability for enrolment, Deane said none of the universities in the province have been willing to make a statement about the degree to which they will be online in the fall.

In other provinces, some institutions have started sharing details about the fall term. 

The Ubyssey, UBC’s student newspaper, reported that the institution announced in a broadcast email on May 11 that it will be offering a mixture of online and in-person instruction for the fall term.

Universities in Quebec also announced on Monday that they’ll offer most of their courses online in September, including McGill University, Université de Montréal, and Université Laval.

At the time of publication, Queen’s has not yet shared their plan for course delivery in the fall term.

While the University maintains its goal of having students on campus for the fall term, Deane said it’s hard to know what the institution can offer at this point. 

As the COVID-19 crisis develops, Deane told the Board of Trustees that the University has entered the phase of planning for a future where the situation is changing on a daily basis. 

“[T]here are so many moving parts as we contemplate what the fall term will look like. It’s actually making planning very difficult to do,” Deane said. “[We’re] envisaging conditions that we absolutely cannot predict and are beyond our control.” 

Despite the difficulties, he said the University is making provisions for remote learning so they're equipped to support students in any scenario. In April, Deane established a steering committee to coordinate how Queen’s will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis and how the fall term might be structured. 

He said the committee has been effective in identifying key decisions the University must make in planning for the upcoming academic year and referenced several factors influencing the discussion about the fall term, including government regulation, advice from public health authorities, and the “unpredictable” human side of things.

“I can’t remember ever planning for a start of term that has so many wildly uncontrollable moving parts,” Deane said. “In that context, I think we’re doing quite well.”

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