Planning 2021-22: U of A is getting Fall Ready

The Fall ’21 Readiness Working Group on What to Expect this September

June 24, 2021

Picture this. It’s Wednesday, September 1, 2021, the first day of the Fall ’21 term. Our campuses are teeming with people. It’s the first time in more than 17 months (533 days to be exact) that so many of us have been in one place since Alberta’s premier declared a state of emergency and most of us went home.

Classes are in. Most of our students and their instructors are back. The staff who assist students on campus are back. Residences are humming with students, who have travelled from across Alberta and Canada and around the world to be here. Those researchers and their research teams who had to be away are back in their labs. 

Libraries are busy. Food courts are thriving. Fitness centres are buzzing. Buses and trains deliver thousands of people every hour; bikes fill the racks and cars fill the lots. The university’s wireless network is alive with thousands of users logged in from every corner of every campus. People eating lunch, throwing frisbees, catching up and making new acquaintances are spread out across the various quads and green spaces that dot our campuses. At Enterprise Square, staff try out the newly upgraded atrium, finding a new favourite spot to take in their morning coffee or tea. Pods of first year and second year students follow tour guides who show them around this complex place. Thousands of students make their way purposefully from building to building, class to class.

We’re back.

Well, we’re mostly back. Portions of our community will still be tuning in to participate remotely, and planning for their return as soon as international restrictions allow. COVID-19 will still be with us this fall, and it will continue to shape the story of the term. Here’s more of the picture.

First, Safety

The university’s plan for the fall, approved by the university’s leadership team June 24th, puts safety as the very first consideration. Here’s a look at what that means.

Fall Readiness Plan 2021
Learn more about how the U of A is getting Fall Ready.

Mental Health 

For the first few months of the pandemic, planners imagined a jubilant return to campus, when we could once again join in learning and research together, in groups large and small. As 2021 has progressed, however, all the evidence tells us that there is a wide range of feelings about coming back to campuses. Fall 2021 will be unlike any fall that’s come before; post-pandemic experiences will be different. Some members of our community will be ready for this, others will need support to adjust.

People have fears about catching or spreading COVID-19; many are unsure they are ready to face large groups of people; many have adjusted to living in contact with loved ones and don’t feel ready to be apart. September will be an exciting time, but many of us will be nervous -- and that includes members of every group: students, faculty, and staff. 

We can support each other with a little extra patience and understanding during this time. University services are gearing up too.

Mental Health for Students

Mental health resources will be available to support all students in their transition to on-campus learning. Counselling and Clinical Services, the Dean of Students ACCESS Team and the inaugural Student Service Centre will provide entry points for students seeking mental health support throughout the transition. Counselling and Clinical Services will offer mental health workshops on a variety of topics throughout the fall term, with specialized workshops currently under development to support those students struggling with the transition to in-person activities. All CCS workshops will be virtual and free to students. 

Mental Health for Faculty and Staff

Human Resources, Health, Safety & Environment will make mental health resources available to support all employees in the transition back to on-campus work, with topics including respect, resilience, psychological health and safety, managing transition (faculty, staff and manager-specific), mental health and wellbeing, self-care, respectful conversations (professionalism), bullying and harassment in the workplace and difficult conversations. Modes of delivery will include articles, newsletters, virtual mail outs, lunch and learns, webinars, and workshops. 

The Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) remains accessible to all faculty and staff. In-person services will be resumed when appropriate and telephonic and video counseling will be available.

Counselling and Clinical Services, within University Health Services, will offer a variety of workshops, as well as mental health support for faculty and staff.

Teaching, Learning

Eighty percent of University of Alberta classes will be delivered in person this fall. That means that some 30,000 students will again be occupying classrooms, lecture theatres, studios and labs across our campuses, where they will receive instruction as they did before the pandemic.

Decisions about whether classes should be delivered in person or online were largely made within faculties. Some are able to offer courses in both formats to reach students who cannot get to campus. Some courses will be delivered only online. Despite the initial challenges of online learning, many instructors and students learned new ways to connect with each other and with the material to deliver rich learning experiences. All that new learning will be brought to bear this fall for those engaged in online instruction.

Some instructors will offer a hybrid form of teaching, where students will be able to attend the class either in person or online. Hybrid course delivery will depend on several factors, including the course and material, the technology capabilities, size of class and instructor capacity.

Some students will have all their classes on campus. Some students will only be taking online courses. For students that have a mix, the university will designate “touchdown” spaces, where students can take an online course in a lab or on their laptop on the same day as they attend in-person classes.

Sports and Recreation

Campus & Community Recreation will provide services at near-normal levels, including group exercise, personal training, various healthy living activities, physical assessments, recreational sports, elite sport training, and ethnic and cultural dance.

All 37 indoor and outdoor recreation facilities will be open, including Clare Drake Arena, Universiade Pavilion, campus gymnasiums, Hanson Fitness and Lifestyle Centre, Saville Community Sports Centre Gymnasiums, Tennis Centre and Curling Centre, Foote Field Dome, and various outdoor sporting fields.

The Golden Bears and Pandas will once again host varsity games on campus.

In addition to in-person recreational experiences, Campus & Community Recreation will continue to offer virtual options including fitness, dance, meditation and eSports. 

All facilities, programs, and services will be available for internal campus recreation, intramurals, athletic activities, and external rentals and membership sales. 

Although the majority of provincial health orders will have been removed, the operators of university recreational facilities may require extra controls. These decisions will be made by facility and program managers closer to the dates that activities are scheduled to occur.


Residences will continue to operate this fall. There will be elevated levels of cleaning; access and visitation protocols may be slightly more controlled than usual; there will be strategies to manage the closest contact through room assignments, and there will be protocols in dining facilities to minimize the possibility of exposure to possible infection.

Students who arrive from abroad will be able to self-isolate in residence, if necessary, as will any student with symptoms associated with COVID-19.

Students Who Can’t Make it to Campus

For various reasons, there will be students who will be unable to come to campus to attend classes in person or take part in campus activities. This includes some international students and immunocompromised or otherwise vulnerable individuals. 

Each faculty is doing what it can to permit these students to commence or continue their studies with the University of Alberta. We don’t yet know which online courses international students will choose, but faculties and support units across the university are planning to deliver robust online learning experiences. 

Immunocompromised and vulnerable students, who cannot come to campus, have the same online choices, but will be able to apply for accommodations to ensure they are able to progress in their programs. Processes for student accommodations will be based on existing policies and practices and will take into account issues that may arise in in-person classes or remote classes. 

Support Staff Returning in Waves

Over time, faculty and staff have adjusted to working at a distance, and work practices have evolved to suit the virtual workplace. The return to in-person and on-campus work will be complex. 

The return of faculty and staff will happen in phases, according to the operational needs of a unit, with the first phase beginning in early August. These are the members of staff whose responsibilities include providing services and support to students, and to faculty members in support of their teaching.

Those who have not returned to campus during the first phase will return to campuses between October and December, with the goal of having all employees return by January of 2022.

The university will give at least 30 days notice to staff before they are expected to return to their on-campus workplace, so everyone will have lots of time to prepare. 

Working from Home in the Long Term

A consistent theme across all industries and sectors is that remote working can work, though not for all. We know that many U of A employees would like to continue working from home for the long term. Many would like to see a mix of at-home and on-campus work. For these reasons, the university is developing a formal work from home program that employees can apply for that may see them working from home beginning in January, after the full return.

Working from home doesn’t suit all positions, just as it doesn’t suit all individuals. As with other elements of the post-pandemic world, the university will be circumspect in how it approaches the issue in the months and years ahead. 

Optimism and Caution

The university’s fall readiness working group began to meet in March, when uncertainty about a return to campus was high. Over just a few months, rates of vaccination have continued to rise, and rates of COVID-19 infection have continued to fall. We will be ready to return this September, and everything will be in place to make sure that happens. It won’t be a regular September, however: we will continue to keep a careful watch. We will open everything, but carefully. 

It’s going to be an exciting time. If we approach it with patience and understanding, the University of Alberta will enter the post-pandemic world as it should: a great university, doing great things, for our community and for the world.

Updates from the various planning groups will continue to be available throughout the summer. For more information, please continue to read the weekly COVID-19 information updates, check out the university’s Campus Life webpage, and follow your faculty-specific news. If you can't find your answer, please reach out to the Fall ‘21 Readiness Working Group through