Second term will begin online, return to in-person scheduled for January 24

UBC will begin second term online.

President Santa Ono announced the change in a broadcast email sent out to students today. Classes will begin on time online, but will not return to in-person instruction until January 24, two weeks after the beginning of the term.

“This decision will provide certainty for our students and allow time for faculty and staff to prepare course materials and student supports and services to ensure that excellent teaching and learning activities are maintained in all delivery modalities,” Ono and Principal of UBC Okanagan Lesley Cormack wrote in a statement.

Some aspects of courses, such as “clinical or other experiential, performance or studio components” will remain in-person with safety protocols in place.

Student housing, student services and libraries will also remain open.

“Our intention is to enable a safe return to fully in-person learning and instruction on January 24,” Ono and Cormack wrote.

UBC’s COVID-19 case counts have been rising, as have rates across BC and worldwide. The BC Centre for Disease Control only releases data about students who live on campus or in the surrounding neighbourhood, but has reported 25 positive COVID-19 cases in the last week, up from 8 the week before. COVID-19 data for all students, faculty and staff has not been released.

Yesterday, the province announced a slew of new restrictions on top of some announced last Friday. They include a ban on indoor organized gatherings and the closure of bars, nightclubs and gyms until January 18. Indoor personal gatherings are limited to one household plus ten other people, or one additional household, until January 31.

A December 21 letter from Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry strongly recommended a return to in-person instruction in the new year. The letter suggested that the health office would be reevaluating if the situation changed, but emphasized the need for in-person instruction.

“[G]iven the importance of maintaining in person and on campus education of post secondary students, Public Health Leadership will work with post secondary institutions to provide guidance, support and assistance to ensure that students are able to continue learning in place,” Henry wrote.

UBC will continue its rapid testing program for students in residence on January 4–7. Symptomatic testing will be coming to the Vancouver campus in the new year, although no specific details have been released yet.

Public health also announced that 500,000 rapid tests would be set aside for post-secondary use in the new year.

This announcement follows a public struggle between students and the administration over the continuation of in-person finals. Some faculties allowed online exams, but the university permitted continued in-person exams to continue throughout finals season. An added option to delay exams due to COVID-19 anxiety was deemed not enough by the student society.