BCIT is not exceptional in its need to adapt to COVID-19. However, being away from campus and continuing the burdens of school and work have left us all a bit discombobulated. Here are just some of the challenges that we have to work around; I hope it puts some perspective on these changes.
You would think that with most classes being online that the cost for students would have gone down. Sadly, they have not. The overall cost for a full-time student at BCIT went up on average by 2 to 3 percent in line with previous annual increases. Several students I talked to said this made them angry. They understood why they had to pay something, but the price staying the same, let alone increasing, was outrageous to them. They cited the student gym’s closure and the student healthcare centre’s more limited services as two points of frustration. While their frustration with increased costs at a time they are on tighter budgets due to loss of work is reasonable, the reality is that many institutions have had to invest in new technology to operate during the pandemic while still maintaining empty facilities.
While students’ dismay at the institute’s cost is understandable, these costs are not exactly surprising. BCIT is reliant upon tuition fees, government support, and private donors to fulfil their budgetary demands. While government support may have increased during the pandemic, the overall revenue brought in by tuition fees and private donations has dropped substantially, all while BCIT is trying to enforce new social distancing and cleaning rules and paying thousands of teachers and support workers. It must be acknowledged that BCIT, the federal government, and the provincial government have all increased student aid and programs like CERB gave many people upwards of $10,000. This is no replacement for a job, but it is certainly one of the most significant and generous financial aid packages the federal government has ever provided.
At the start of a regular year at BCIT the school would be host to a number of orientation events and maybe even a scavenger hunt to help students become familiar with the campus. For example, club day is an important event for BCIT students to explore the extracurricular offerings on campus. This year saw a modified online version of Club Day.
A normal year would see a multitude of on campus events. Throughout the year, departments would hold showcases or events to recognize their student’s achievements. There were annual hackathon’s organized under the Students’ Association as well that would bring in people from other schools. Doggy de-stress days, where dogs came to campus, happened around the exam time periods and were super popular as well.
Now, everything is cancelled. While clubs and other groups around campus have sought to create virtual events, attendance has been mixed. A tremendous success can be found in the Housing Division, which has relentlessly promoted virtual activities and distanced events for those living in residence.
Involvement, Community work, and Work opportunities:
One of the biggest draws of coming to BCIT’s is that many programs promise a combination of work and schooling. Sadly, most of those hands-on opportunities have been limited to what we can use on campus. Journalism students still occasionally go into the studio. Civil engineering students go and measure in the open-air track and soccer field by the residences. Auto and mechanical students are still in the shop (though with masks and other physical distancing precautions). However, the main draw, co-ops and other work terms, are almost entirely online or non-existent. However, with the vaccine coming out, there is hope that more and more students will be on campus when it is safe.
We effectively have no student life at the moment. By no exaggeration, the student bar is the centre of student culture. People go there to laugh, listen to music, and meet people. While we may occasionally see our classmates, our student life is what we make of it. But it is much harder to have those experiences when our student bar is shut until further notice. Some folks have been making sure to get together for a beer or to play some board games, but with ever-changing isolation rules, compliance can often complicate those plans.
Living on Campus
The part of BCIT that may have improved a bit because of COVID, at least by introverted standards, would be living in on-campus housing. The residences are now cleaned daily, and all the laundry machines are free. Instead of sharing a bathroom and a fridge between three people, the maximum number of people using the facilities can only be two. There are also more protocols in place requiring others living in the residences to clean up after themselves. The only major downside is most of the on-campus meal options are closed (the E.T.C., Pavilion, and the Rix are the only food services options still open on campus), and no guests are allowed in residential buildings.
The most important part of the student services package is Health Services. For those living on or around campus, it is merely the most convenient medical service available. For international students, it may be the only easily accessible medical service they can find. Health Services is still operating through online appointments and some in-person appointments when needed. However, their overall capacity has been reduced. This is troubling as the clinic already had limited capacity, and it may force students to go to one of Vancouver’s emergency rooms if they cannot get an easy appointment. This is likely to stay this way this well into next year if the virus continues to be a threat.
Some students frankly do not feel invested in their programs. The entire process feels distant. Students are left continuously waiting for marks, due dates, and clear instructions. Sometimes timetables are not even completed until the day before students start classes.
With enrolment already down, the student population has decreased by a slightly larger portion than expected due to students being unhappy with the online delivery. If this pandemic sees infection rates and the vaccination rate continue at their current paces, we could be in this model for the long haul. If we want to return to the classroom, more government funding is needed.
It is much harder for us to make connections outside of class because we are denied the simplest human interactions. This is a particular disadvantage for those attending BCIT straight from high school; they are going to leave BCIT with a networking disadvantage if the pandemic cancels the next academic year.
These factors have contributed to many people choosing to leave their programs or put their studies on hold.
Teacher and Learning Environment
Teachers have openly complained to students that they hate the current learning environment. Teachers used to be able to double-check work immediately, have more in-depth conversations with students and make connections. Now, dozens of faces are behind computer screens, some of whom do not even turn on their camera. This disconnect between teachers and students had multiple teachers say that they felt like they were being made into a bad guy, which is the last thing they want.
This being a tension point is unsurprising. Teachers are students’ most direct and familiar point of contact with the Institute. It is a genuinely odd sensation to want to be back in the classroom, but if anything needed to change over the last year, perspectives would undoubtedly be high on the list. Let us hope that we can have a safe return to campus soon. That would solve many of the immediate problems. If not, we must learn from the last year and adapt. This is particularly difficult for students because we are dealing with an unprecedented international crisis at a changing time in our lives without the typical opportunities and resources that we would have had. There is irony in that we are being denied new opportunities out of necessity; at the same time, we are trying to build opportunities out of necessity. While it does mean our situation is more challenging, it also gives us greater agency. You are paying for your education, so you have a right to expected specific outcomes, but you have to take the initiative. Students and teachers need to advocate for what they need in the classroom, from each other and to the administration. By being friendly advocates for ourselves, the situation can be improved. The immediate actions you can take are voting in the student election, taking advantage of virtual office hours with teachers, and writing for Link. Also, reach out to a Club President and ask how you can get involved. Our community is at its strongest when we all get to take part.
Jonah van Driesum is the senior editor of Link, and co-host of our the MicroLink podcast!