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Ongoing support for SFU students during the pandemic

July 14, 2020

Throughout my time as pres-archiveident of SFU, I have never ceased to be impres-archivesed by the extraordinary talents and limitless potential of our students. Most recently, during the COVID-19 crisis, they have demonstrated remarkable determination, dedication and resilience.

It has not been easy. I have heard from many students who are concerned about paying the bills, finding work, travelling home to another province or country – and of course, about challenges associated with continuing their studies. At the same time, having spoken with staff in Student Services and other parts of the university, and visited our frontline workers in Health and Counselling and SFU Residences, I can attest to how devoted all of us at SFU are to supporting students. In particular, we are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that educational quality is maintained and that students have the support they need to succeed during these difficult times.

Recognizing the challenges brought on by the current crisis, Student Services is offering a variety of resources – from assistance finding co-op work placements, to help with online learning resources, to support for international students, to providing mental health programs and services (including My SSP and Here2Talk, which offer 24/7 virtual counselling in multiple languages free to all SFU students).

We created an SFU Student Urgent Response Fund which has grown to over $350,000. To date, drawing upon this and other funds, SFU has provided over $3.2 million in emergency aid to domestic and international students in need. We continue to offer significant bursary support for undergraduate and graduate students, and are the only Canadian institution to offer bursaries to international students.

We’ve also joined with other universities in advocating to governments on behalf of students impacted by COVID-19. One major outcome was the $9 billion student support package announced by the federal government in April that doubles student grants for the next academic year to $6,000 and adds almost $2 billion to the Canada Student Loans Program. This will significantly reduce the cost of post-secondary education for domestic students this year.  And our advocacy continues. BC’s research universities recently pres-archiveented four urgent recommendations to the Province on behalf of students: increased emergency financial assistance; mental health supports; resources for online learning; and increased graduate scholarship funding.

Through SFU’s Centre for Educational Excellence (CEE), we continue to provide guidance and support to instructors and students engaged in online learning, thereby improving dramatically the quality of remote instruction. In addition, SFU’s Health Promotion team has partnered with CEE to help instructors ensure that student well-being is protected in the remote learning experience, and Student Services has assisted students who need equipment in order to participate in remote learning.

Heading into the Fall semester, steps are underway to enable more on-campus research, and decisions have been made to allow a limited number of in-person classes where it is safe to do so and, as in some lab courses, in-person teaching is essential to learning outcomes.

Finally, recognizing the vital role that education can play in post-pandemic recovery, I continue to urge governments to pursue economic recovery strategies that harness the capacities of universities to develop human capital, increase social equity and advance climate goals.  

Education is the best insurance against economic uncertainty, and Canada will require a highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce to help rebuild our economy as we come out of this crisis. At SFU, we will continue to do all we can to support our students – during the crisis and beyond.