REGINA -- The University of Regina is rolling out its plan to transition students back to on-campus learning starting in fall 2021.

As COVID-19 vaccines become more available in Saskatchewan, the university said it hopes to welcome as many people back to campus as is safe. There will be increased options for in-person teaching and learning, but virtual options will still be offered.

The school said the fall semester will be viewed as a transitional period and it hopes to resume near-normal operations in the following term, winter 2022.

“We anticipate an increase in faculty, staff and students - their presence on campus - so they’ll bring an energy and vibe that hasn’t been here in over a year. We’re excited about that,” david Gregory, the provost and Vice President of the University of Regina, said. “But we’ll do it safely and we’ll do it according to the public health protocols that are in place.”

Some students are looking forward to the return to campus.

“I’ve been waiting for that news. I feel excited,” Ukeme Enoch, a second year student, said. “I don’t want a situation where we get back into school, then one or two things happen accidentally, and then everybody has to go back home. I hope everything goes smoothly. I hope the number of students [on campus] keeps increasing.” 

The return to school plan is being done through consultation with the Ministry of Advanced Education, the province’s chief medical health officer, the school’s health safety and wellness team and the latest scientific and medical data.

Gregory said the transition back to in-person learning will likely have a positive effect on the mental health of students and staff.

“Like most of the population, there has been some challenges with mental health. We’re social creatures, we like to gather and we like to be together and the pandemic has negated that,” he said. “It’s been a challenge for all members of our community. We have added mental health services and additional counselling for our students and there’s programs for faculty and staff.”

For third year student Aliraza Hezaryan, remote learning started out as an exciting concept, but he said it has turned out to be draining.

“As it moved on, we were introduced to Zoom fatigue. When we’re having our classes and all of our interactions through Zoom, it’s way harder and more energy draining than it is in person,” he said. “So it surely has affected our mental health and our stress level.”

Hezaryan said he’s excited to get back to classes on campus for the social interaction, as well as an improved level of learning. 

The University of Regina has not yet announced how tuition rates will be impacted from the pandemic, but Gregory said they will likely change.

“There will be a formal announcement by the university about that, but most secondary institutions across the country have got to increase their tuition to make sure they can balance their budgets,” he said. “I would be very surprised if the post secondaries across the country don’t increase their tuition this year.”

The university said it will not be mandating vaccinations for its students and staff when they return to campus.

“The University of Regina strongly encourages all members of the campus community to receive their COVID-19 vaccination as they become eligible to do so,” Paul Dederick, the associate director of communications and public relations with the university, said in an email to CTV Regina. “However, attempting to make vaccination mandatory for all those coming to our campus this Fall would present many legal and logistical challenges.”

The school said students can expect masking, sanitizing, physical distancing and other safety measure to be in place when they return to campus.