Western’s president said he is optimistic classes will resume in-person come fall — at least partially.
In an interview with the Gazette, Alan Shepard, Western University’s president, said that while the administration is very much in “emergency mode” right now, they’re planning ahead for different scenarios next term.
"I would say there is a very good chance we'll be open — physically open — in September," said Shepard. "What that will look like is still up for grabs."
Shepard said he hopes that students will be able to attend smaller labs and tutorial sessions on-campus next year, while larger lectures would remain online.
Western officials are hesitant to make any premature moves in the ever-evolving pandemic, as they grapple with providing a renowned student experience and adjusting to the new normal of social distancing.
Shepard told students in a video address on April 21, that professors are preparing to host online courses in September, but stressed in the interview that no decisions regarding fall classes will be set in stone until June.
Tuition rates will likely remain the same, even if students end up splitting their time between the classroom and Zoom next semester.
“Tuition is not going to change at the university unless the government gives us instruction,” said Shepard. “We have bills to pay like everybody else, and without tuition we would find it extremely difficult to pay those bills, so the tuition is not likely to be reduced.”
Shepard went on to say that further tuition savings are unlikely given last year’s provincial government-mandated 10 per cent cut, that came alongside Ontario Student Assistance Program changes and the Student Choice Initiative.
But while tuition is unlikely to change, Western students can still hope to save a buck on their ancillary fees, which may drop if Western is not able to offer its full range of services.
“If we’re not physically able to offer [programs], then there will likely be adjustments in those fees,” said Shepard. “We’ll probably eliminate fees where we’re not giving any service.”
Students could expect to see reductions in areas like the $107.28 Campus Recreation fee and $20.37 Thompson Recreation and Athletic Centre fee, if campus’ gym facilities remain closed. Though Shepard assures students that Western will be working hard to adapt its services to meet social distancing guidelines.
In addition to cuts, students can also expect to benefit from the financial aid packages set up by the government and university. While the federal government has already committed over $9-billion to helping students through the crisis, including the Canada Emergency Student Benefit which will provide eligible students with $1,250 a month from May to August, Western has also set up its own Student Relief Fund and increased student financial aid by 40 per cent.
But these savings will come at another cost, one that will likely hit incoming first-years hard.
For the time being, Western’s time-honoured Summer Academic Orientation has been transferred online, and plans for this year’s OWeek are more uncertain than ever.
“It’s not likely to feel like the ordinary September at Western,” said Shepard. “Some of the things like Orientation Week … and getting to know this new community is likely to be done with six feet distance from everybody else.”
Western has long prided itself on providing the “best student experience in Canada,” yet with social distancing measures in place and large events on hold for the foreseeable future — that might all be at risk.
“One of the things Western really prizes is this experience where people can really bond with their roommates and classmates,” said Shepard. “That’s all disrupted like everybody's lives are disrupted.”
Correction (May 4, 6:50 p.m.): The article has been corrected to reflect that the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit offers $1,250 a month for eligible students.