Commuters like me are likely to be most receptive to the recent move to online-only courses for Faculty of Arts & Science students — even though we may miss the classroom experience that a laptop in a tiny bedroom cannot replace.
While moving most courses to an online-only delivery model is the best way to protect the student population from COVID-19, U of T should have made a unilateral decision for all faculties before the fall semester started. Now, the drastic shift to online-only courses halfway through the semester has inconvenienced a significant portion of the student population.
On the one hand, commuters living at home have the least to worry about during this transition. The biggest pre-pandemic costs for most commuters were transportation and rent. Without a reason to commute now, our costs for the fall term have reduced.
On the other hand, non-commuting and international Faculty of Arts & Science students now face high expenses and may feel trapped in a city that they have no real reason to be in anymore — all because the university failed to make the right decision from the start.
Thousands of dollars wasted for non-commuters
Many students living outside of Toronto decided to live in residences or rent apartments to attend in-person classes. The pandemic has not lowered Toronto’s steep living costs and students are potentially paying upward of $2,000 a month to now attend classes that are solely online.
With the lack of available jobs due to stricter restrictions in Ontario, students have spent a significant portion of money with few ways to earn it back. Students with the option to go home may have to contend with payments for breaking their leases, while students who live in residence will have to work with the university to sort out refunds if they no longer wish to remain in the city.
Had U of T mandated that all faculties transition fully online before the start of the year, these students wouldn’t be stuck paying for rent and living expenses when they never had to travel to Toronto in the first place.
International students left stuck and alone
The issues that domestic non-commuter students faced are compounded for international students who were able to move to Toronto this fall.
Despite travel risks in a pandemic, more than 730 international students quarantined through the program provided by U of T in order to travel back to Toronto to attend classes, according to U of T News. U of T helped these students with their re-entry plans and provided them with the 14-day quarantine program.
However, now that courses are progressing completely online for many in the Faculty of Arts & Science, international students are left stranded with limited ways to get home. U of T provided aid for students to come back to Canada, but where is the aid for students who are here and want to return home?
Even if international students could pack and leave regardless of expenses, travel restrictions in Toronto have also been tightened, making it very difficult to board a plane back home. WestJet has recently announced flight suspensions in Atlantic Canada, and Porter airlines is suspending all flights until December.
Overall the university should acknowledge its poor decision for the fall semester’s course delivery, given the inevitability of the second wave. To say this decision inconvenienced a major portion of the student population is an understatement. With travel restrictions and signed leases, many students are left feeling stuck and frustrated in an already troubling time.
Hyerin Jeong is a fourth-year physiology and cell and molecular biology student at New College.