On Tuesday, October 5, McGill University announced that all exchange and independent study programs for the Winter 2022 semester have been cancelled due to COVID-19 and the Canadian government’s international travel restrictions. This announcement was made in an email to all students planning on studying abroad in the Winter. Deputy Provost Fabrice Labeau writes in the email that “this decision was not taken lightly, and was reached through, above all else, concern for the safety and wellbeing of our students.”
Students are upset to hear the semester they have been dreaming about is no longer in the cards. “Students are being robbed of a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said U2 Arts Emma Dickinson, who was set to attend Comillas Pontifical University in Madrid. Jane Pencer, U2, believes the decision to go abroad should be up to the individual and how comfortable they feel travelling at this time. “Everyone who applied knew the risks associated with travelling abroad,” said Pencer.
Labeau says factors contributing to the cancellation of exchange include “public health landscapes, vaccination numbers and health regulations [that] continue to vary widely from country to country.” Additionally, the email states that “the Canadian government is currently maintaining a Global Level 3 travel advisory, indicating that all non-essential travel out of Canada should be avoided until further notice.”
The Government of Canada website states, “it is up to you to decide what “non-essential travel” means, based on family or business requirements, knowledge of or familiarity with a country, territory or region, and other factors. The website also states that “many countries, including Canada, encourage student exchanges in the belief that both countries will be enriched.”
Students felt the decision was made too hastily, U2 Arts Aviva Penn, who had planned to study in Amsterdam, asked “what about October 5th made McGill cancel exchange?”“I’ve been wondering how long McGill has been sitting on this decision, a lot of us just completed our applications to our exchange universities, a waste of time and money” she adds.
Others felt the decision was made too broadly. “I don’t understand why it’s cancelled across the board, when it should be taken case by case” says Dickinson. “Countries have different restrictions and some schools are fully ready to have students attend, I feel like they’re taking the easy way out by cancelling it [for all schools].”
These concerns from students were raised by the Bull and Bear to a representative from McGill administration following their initial announcement; however, the response was the same statement that exchange students already received.
On March 13, 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, McGill suspended student travel abroad, in accordance with federal measures that prohibited nonessential travel. Students who were abroad at the time were requested to return home on March 14, just one day later. McGill has yet to allow students on exchange since that initial COVID-19 lockdown back in March 2020. “I never would have thought two years later this would still be impacting our university experience” said Jane Pencer.
Labeau stated that this decision to cancel the exchange program was not subject to change in the coming months “due to the significant planning and logistical requirements involved.”
Other schools, such as Queen’s University and Concordia University, still have exchange programs planned for the Winter semester. “As of now, winter exchange is still proceeding as normal for most students at Queen’s. Exchange is also happening right now with some of my upper year friends studying abroad in Europe this Fall,” said Liza Podrez, a third year Commerce student with plans to study in Rome this Winter.
Marc Dikranian, a representative from Concordia International, said in an email “as of now we are running the exchange program as usual. However, we are constantly exchanging with our partner schools since every country’s situation is different.”
Deferrals of the Winter 2022 Exchange program are not available, and those who wish to attend exchange in Fall 2022 will have to reapply.