In addition to offering free and confidential support, advice, and representation at the university level, we represent and advance key areas of interest of Saint Mary’s students in cooperation with our two external advocacy groups; Students Nova Scotia (SNS) and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA). This page is another way for us at SMUSA to hear how Saint Mary’s students perceive student issues on a rotating basis so that we can best advocate for YOU. While our advocacy priorities may change throughout the year, our mission will always be to make education more affordable, accessible, innovative, and student-driven.
COVID-19 and the Online Semester
COVID-19 has brought on a number of challenges for students. For SMU students, moving courses online has some pretty significant implications and has led to all of us raising concerns. One of the most pressing issues is uncertainty. We do not know what to expect for the upcoming semester and are not sure what the future will look like. Students are facing unprecedented economic hardship, both in terms of paying bills and finding jobs after graduation. Right now, students are re-evaluating whether returning to school is the right option based on personal and financial circumstances.
We feel as though there are meaningful ways the University can address these issues and alleviate some of the concerns we all have as students.
Click on any of our five major themes below to read the demands we made to the University related to that area.
Issues We Are Raising
When it comes to the fall semester, we want to make sure that the quality of education in an online format isn’t less than in-person delivery and that students know exactly what to expect from their courses.
That’s why we want to see:
- A list of clear expectations for students & faculty about office hours, how to contact your professor, how to make complaints, and fair test/exam processes.
- Measures to ensure that students clearly understand what to do if faculty don’t meet expectations.
- An extension to the Add/Drop deadline to give students enough time to find courses that work with their schedule, academic needs, and personal situations.
Many students have been calling for a decrease in tuition out of concern that online courses won’t be of equal value compared to in-person classes. We rejected the tuition increase in March and we continue to reject it now, particularly the 7% tuition increase for international students. If tuition is not negotiable, we want to draw attention to other aspects of student affordability and different options that can reduce the financial burden for all of us.
We want to see:
- The SMU COVID-19 Emergency Bursary continued in order to further provide financial support to all students.
- The University offer funding opportunities specifically for international students. This could include funding for international students who were forced to stay in Canada due to border restrictions or those who were unable to get a summer job.
- A breakdown of where certain fees are going and reasoning behind why certain fees cannot be reduced or postponed until after COVID-19. These fees include the Arts, Commerce, or Science Resource Fees alongside campus renewal and recreational facilities fees.
- A long-term plan for tuition predictability at SMU that would ensure students know what their tuition costs are going to be throughout their entire degree.
- Removal or delay of the late tuition interest to help reduce some stress while still allowing students to continue with their studies.
Safety for students and the Halifax community should continue to be a top priority moving forward. As the University begins to consider planning some events in Fall 2020 and potential hybrid models for Winter 2021, safe procedures and clear expectations are going to be critical for students.
- We are aware of the increase in mandatory meal plans within residence, specifically for students in the Rice Residence. This idea was presented with the suggestion that it would help students if needed during self-isolation. These meal plans are expensive at roughly $1845+) and are an added cost for students who choose Rice to take advantage of having an apartment-style room with a kitchen. Instead, a specific 14-day meal plan should be offered for students needing to self-isolate, both for the safety of the student and the larger residence community.
- Based on some of the challenges at other Nova Scotia institutions pertaining to legal waivers, we’re requesting that students have a seat at the table when creating return plans for students. Further, we would like to establish consistent communication with the University about campus return plans by developing a SMUSA-SMU memorandum of understanding (MOU) or allowing time for legal consultation on any documentation.
- Lastly, COVID-19 has and will continue to impact vulnerable populations even as restrictions lift. That’s why we believe that, regardless of the University’s intentions for Winter 2021, all courses should be made available to students online, so that any student who studies at Saint Mary’s University can continue to study at home if that is their safest option.
The unprecedented nature of COVID-19 makes it hard to get clear communication from the University, which causes significant confusion.
- This has amplified the need for student consultation and communication. For this reason, we as students should be provided with frequent and accessible opportunities to connect with University Administrators, through town halls, surveys, and more.
- As well, we’ve all been requesting more information during the COVID-19 period, but it can also be overwhelming to get news from every angle and at all times. We all have concerns over communication during the emergency transition period in March 2020, and based on continued communications-related concerns, we want to collaborate with the University on how decisions are communicated to all of us, whether through email, social media, or otherwise.
- Lastly, the confusion about extra fees has contributed to lots of discussion and questions about the rationale for certain charges. In order to reduce some of these concerns, we support the creation and distribution of detailed communications to students identifying the fees and their respective uses.
Services for Students
With many University services operating online, it’s important that we are still receiving the high-quality resources needed to stay well and succeed. These services are wide-ranging but are an important component of our university experience and will be especially crucial in an online semester.
- International students who are studying in their home country won’t be able to access the SMU Counselling Centre or any Canadian mental health service. Students across the world are stressed and it’s important that international students still have options to access mental health resources and materials. We want to work with the University to pursue funding allocations or programming that gives international students access to essential mental health resources, even outside of Canada.
- On-campus employment provides many students with valuable work experience and a chance to build important connections within the SMU community. Further, on-campus employment is often the best option for international students based on visa restrictions. Although SMUSA understands that University departments are experiencing budget cuts, we support maintaining budgets where possible for student employment opportunities.
- Sufficient access to digital technology and internet continues to be a concern for students. We’ve been advocating to the government for digital technology funding; however, we’d also like to see additional investments from SMU into programs, such as the Laptop Loan Program, which support students in significant need. As well, we support prioritizing campus access for students who require computer access, internet access, or software that cannot be accessed easily at home.
- In response to overwhelming student concerns about the SMU International Centre’s response to COVID-19, we support a future external review of the SMU International Centre to ensure that international students are receiving the advice, support, and resources that they need.
Questions, Comments, or Concerns?
Have a question or have an issue/experience you want us to raise? Contact us!