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Atlantic universities planning to reopen in fall

A man walks through the quiet Dalhousie campus on Monday, May 11, 2020. Universities in Atlantic Canada are optimistic about reopening for the fall semester -- if they get the OK from public health officials.
Ryan Taplin - The Chronicle Herald
A man walks through the quiet Dalhousie campus on Monday, May 11, 2020. Universities in Atlantic Canada are optimistic about reopening for the fall semester, if they get the OK from public health officials. Ryan Taplin - The Chronicle Herald

Leadership among the region's universities wants to reassure people that they are preparing for a safe return to studies in the fall.

Allister Surette, President and Vice-Chancellor of the Universite Sainte-Anne in Church Point, and Chairman of the Association of Atlantic Universities said the schools are preparing for a number of scenarios that will depend on the directives of Public Health authorities.

“We'll do what we have to do to adapt to offer education and services in the fall,” he said.

The AAU represents 16 universities across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I., and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Surette said they have three messages.

“One, to reassure students, staff and parents of students that we'll follow the public health guidelines and make sure our campuses are safe and that students will be healthy,” he said.

“Two, likely – and nobody knows the future for sure – likely things will be different on our campuses for the fall in terms of perhaps the learning environment, the living environment, research and campus gatherings, and that obviously will depend on what each of our provinces and each of our public health authorities lay out as guidelines for next fall.”

That means classes and residences as well as other “traditional campus activities” will be adjusted to ensure health risks are minimized. At least some courses may have to be delivered online.

“And the third point we wanted to lay out was a message of hope for our students that even with all this uncertainty, not only for students but for everyone, that should not discourage them from either continuing or starting their studies,” Surette said.

He added that the universities hope the situation will become increasingly clear in the next few weeks as to what will be allowed in September.

“We're hoping for the best, planning for the worst,” he said. “So, (it's) hard to say what the public health directives will be for September, but it looks like there might still be some physical distancing then, which means that we will have to adjust accordingly. And, depending on the situation, it will dictate how many of our courses and programs will have to be virtual.”

The universities can control their side of the equation and plan as best they can, he said, but much still depends on the respective provincial public health directives.

“We're in close contact, naturally, with each of our provincial governments and our health authorities in each province to try to keep us in the loop as to what we could possibly expect, but I don't know if anybody knows exactly what will happen day by day.”

“We're hoping that – we may have to make adjustments in September. We're hoping this (the COVID) situation) will evolve, as well, sooner rather than later.”

He also wanted to reassure current high school seniors in this time of uncertainty that their health, safety and academic success is important to the universities as they embark on the next step in their studies.

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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