By Sophia Lopez, January 20 2022—
It was recently announced by the University of Calgary that classes will continue online until Feb. 19. As of now, students can expect to return to in-person learning on Feb. 28.
The New Democratic Party (NDP) Critic for Advanced Education, David Eggen, represented the Alberta NDP by calling out the United Conservative Party (UCP) for the lack of support they have shown to post-secondary institutions in regards to providing a safe and effective learning environment for students during the pandemic. He said that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney must use this time to implement efficient safety measures for schools once it is time to go back in-person.
“Once again, the burden of these public health decisions and responsibility to implement safety measures is falling onto the shoulders of schools,” said Eggen in the media release. “After two years of deep budget cuts, the UCP seemingly are expecting schools to manage this pandemic with zero support, and decreased resources. This is unacceptable.”
When asked what reaction the NDP has had towards the UCP government’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, Eggen told the Gauntlet that he believes the campus community is suffering the consequences of the government’s poor decisions.
“Unfortunately the UCP have done nothing for post-secondary schools to handle the pandemic,” he said. “The UCP have slashed post-secondary budgets by $690 million over the last two budgets, and are expecting schools to handle the increased demands the pandemic presents with significantly decreased resources. The burden of public health decisions should not be falling onto the shoulders of schools. The UCP refuses to support universities, colleges and polytechnics through the pandemic, and it is the students, staff and faculty who are paying the price for the UCP’s negligence.”
Eggen explained how more initiatives need to be executed in order to provide a safe campus environment for students, staff and faculty across all Alberta institutions.
“Alberta’s NDP has called on the government to ensure in-person learning at school is safe,” said Eggen. “We know being in the classroom is the best place for students. This includes ensuring all students and staff have access to N95 masks, conducting audits of air quality and air flow at buildings on campuses to identify areas needed for upgrade, and secure an adequate number of rapid tests for campuses.”
Alberta’s NDP is very openly against the way the UCP government has treated students during the pandemic, and Eggen mentions that anyone who wishes to voice concerns or opinions on the situation are free to contact the NDP.
“Having to endure two years of the back and forth between in-person and online learning is very tough,” he said. “I’m sorry to students that the UCP’s negligence has put the burden of making these public health decisions on the shoulders of your school.”
While many communities at institutions across Alberta are also frustrated with the current situation, the University of Calgary’s Students’ Union (SU) President Nicole Schmidt voiced how the SU is feeling about the recent decision to keep classes online until the end of next month.
“Everyone is tired of the pandemic, and students are no exception,” said Schmidt. “Students are struggling with their mental health and the constant change from in-person to online learning.”
Schmidt shared similar views with Eggen in that they both believe a lack of support has been shown by the UCP government, and how the increase in tuition has done everything but benefit students during this time.
“Students are challenged by a number of factors brought on by the UCP government,” she said. “Not only have they made deep cuts to post-secondary education, resulting in massively increased tuition, but they have not supported students when it comes to finding summer employment. The UCP cancelled STEP [Student Temporary Employment Program] in 2019 and has failed to replace it with a new program to support summer employment. This means that students are paying much more for the same, or perhaps lower, quality of education while also facing reduced employment opportunities during the time they need work the most.”
Overall, Schmidt and the SU believe that more resources to create a safe environment and support students financially could improve how students navigate the fifth wave of the pandemic.
“The SU believes it is long past due that the province steps up with a student jobs program and reverses their cuts,” said Schmidt. “The UCP government also needs to support our post-secondaries similarly to K-12 schools by providing students and staff with medical masks and test kits.”
For more information on the latest U of C announcement, click check out our latest article. To learn more about the university’s COVID-19 plan and protocols, such as vaccination rules and mask mandates, visit the U of C website.