Since UTM announced that it is planning to hold the majority of its winter semester courses in person, a number of students at UTM have criticized the university’s plan. In particular, some international students face unique challenges returning to Canada for the winter semester and have expressed confusion about the processes of returning. 

The challenges they face include financial issues, travel difficulties, and other miscellaneous problems that impact student life and health. Moreover, many parts of the university’s plans remain unclear, especially in regard to programs like rapid screening.

Consequences of returning

Though some international students are able to accommodate a sudden switch to in-person classes, others have not been so fortunate. Victoria Valeeva, a first-year student at UTM, explained in an interview with The Varsity that returning to Canada for the winter semester would mean they might have to miss a significant number of classes, which they believe could put their scholarship in jeopardy. 

Valeeva was awarded the UTM International Scholar award upon entering U of T, which gives students a package of either $100,000 or $180,000, spread out over four years. Valeeva receives $22,500 per semester as long as they comply with certain conditions, including the condition that they must remain enrolled as a full-time student throughout the end of each academic year. 

Valeeva would only be able to arrive a few days before the start of winter semester if UTM returns to in-person classes, and since Valeeva is having trouble getting vaccinated in their home country, they would have to miss about a month of classes in total due to the university’s COVID-19 restrictions. 

Consequently, they would likely be forced to drop out of their classes and lose their scholarship, which cannot be renewed after a year when its conditions have not been met. Without the scholarship, they would no longer be able to attend UTM and would have to continue their education at another institution.

Owais Zahid, another UTM student, also complained about the sudden decision to hold winter classes in person. In an email to The Varsity, he wrote that house hunting and making visa arrangements for his family are complications that will negatively affect his academics.

However, Zahid noted that his biggest concern is due to his complicated medical history and a recent surgery from which he is still recovering. He added that it isn’t realistic to find appropriate physicians and organize health plans in such a short time period. 

Reaching out

A UTM FAQ about the winter semester suggests that students who plan to return for the winter semester come up with a plan as soon as possible, and international students should reach out to the International Education Centre and their college registrars for advice. 

Valeeva said that the only way they could attend their in-person classes in the winter semester would be if U of T continued its tri-campus rapid screening program; however, it remains unclear whether the program will be in place for the winter semester. Moreover, university officials have told Valeeva that rapid screening is only offered to students who have vaccine exemptions. 

Valeeva has reached out to both their registrar and the International Education Centre. The latter responded that it is still unclear what will happen to students like Valeeva who cannot be vaccinated before they return to campus. 

On the other hand, Zahid has not yet contacted university officials because he has been discouraged by the experiences of other international students who have sought help. He added that he will try reaching out to his registrar soon even though he expects a similar response.