UBC Engineering removes all upper-year online classes as obstacles remain for returning international students

“I might need to defer my program by a whole year, which will obviously affect my life, my plans, and all that by a lot,” Aasir Hasan said.

Hasan, who is a second-year chemical engineering student, told The Ubyssey that the Faculty of Engineering has removed any online options for all classes above second-year. The faculty has given no indication that it plans to change course. Last year, the faculty offered courses almost entirely online but chose not to do so for this upcoming term.

Without an online option, advisors have only been able to recommend that Hasan defer his studies by a year. He was even warned that he may lose his place in the chemical engineering program, though this has since been reversed.

Hasan said that the department of chemical engineering has not reached out to help with his situation, and advisors with whom he has spoken with have been unable to help.

“I don't want to say they weren't helpful, it's like they can't help,” said Hasan. “Like, they don't really have any authority in this manner.”

In a statement to The Ubyssey, a representative of the Faculty of Engineering said that it would not be logistically feasible to offer a fully online option, citing a relatively small number of students in Hasan’s situation and the difficulty of recording separate online lectures.

“The Faculty planned for the fall term based on guidance provided by the province, which was to provide for face-to-face instruction. In August we were informed of increasing challenges for some international students in being able to travel to UBC,” the statement reads.

The faculty encourages professors to be lenient with grading for the first half of the semester — up until October 12 when students are expected to be on campus.

“UBC provided survey data to show that the majority of students affected by the travel restrictions report that they will be able to come to Vancouver by the beginning of October, and thus able to engage in person by Oct 12 (the same as for [the Faculty of] Science).”

Students who will not be able to make the October 12 deadline were encouraged to contact an advisor.

A global problem

Hasan is just one of many international students currently facing difficulties and uncertainties about their courses as in-person classes are set to start next week.

Over the past few weeks, reports have been appearing on social media — particularly Reddit, Twitter and Facebook — detailing problems keeping some students from re-entering Canada to study or accessing online classes.

Multiple Reddit users, along with Hasan, have reported delays and denials of study permit applications. According to Hasan, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) denied his application on grounds that they couldn’t guarantee that he would return to Bangladesh upon his permit expiring.

“I'm already a student here. I've already spent three years here. And, you know it just doesn't make any sense for [IRCC] to say that,” Hasan said. “Now, [they’re] concerned that I might illegally stay in Canada, beyond the duration of my study permit.”

Ongoing travel restrictions, notably Canada’s ban on direct flights from India to stem the spread of the Delta variant, has also been a problem for returning international students.

Students from India on Reddit have shared stories of having to fly through multiple countries and take multiple COVID-19 tests just to reach Canada. Once in Vancouver, those who are unvaccinated or received a vaccine that hasn’t been approved by Health Canada must quarantine for two weeks. This is not only expensive, but will also prevent many from attending classes for the first two weeks of the semester.

Hasan noted that some of these travel restrictions are not exclusive to Canada.

“An engineering advisor was telling me that they have been receiving emails from students saying they're unable to travel … for like travel restrictions from their own country where maybe their ports are closed, maybe like all their banks and all that stuff are closed so they can really get their papers and all those documents in order to travel.”

With classes returning to campus, students stuck in some of these predicaments may have no choice but to temporarily defer their studies.

While some professors have been making accommodations to ensure that students, the overwhelming majority of classes lack an online component. In most cases, the few online options available offer students no way of fulfilling requirements for their degrees.

Both Hasan and AMS Councillor Romina Hajizadeh believe that UBC should allow students to take their entire course load online.

“As far as like general lecture-based courses where discussion is not a huge part, I don't see why more of those courses cannot be recorded,” said Hajizadeh. “It's not fair that [international students] have to miss a whole month of school, if not more.”

“Why the disparity,” asked Hasan. “Why not offer courses for students who can't travel, especially if it's an increasing issue, because these are courses that were offered online last year as well.”

The reason for this lack of online options is unclear, though Hajizadeh speculated that the university may feel that the necessary time and resources are lacking, preventing professors from creating adequate course content.

“We had a tuition increase, maybe some of our money could go there,” Hajizadeh said. “I don't know exactly if that's possible, but I just feel like there should be more accommodations for these students.”

In the meantime, Hasan continues to hope that his study permit will be approved in time.

“I know they’re overloaded,” he said. “I just sort of expect more peace of mind.”