Skip navigation

2020: Canadian higher education in review

BY UA/AU | DEC 31 2020

As an eventful 2020 comes to an end, here are the stories and issues that shaped the year in Canadian higher education.

Stories that made 2020

Flight 752: a terrible start to the year

While the pandemic has been uppermost in most people’s minds in 2020, the new year began with another unimaginable tragedy: the death of all 176 passengers and crew aboard Flight 752 after it was shot down shortly after takeoff from Tehran on January 8. Within hours, we began hearing reports that many of those killed had direct ties with Canada’s universities as students, faculty or researchers. Our initial reporting of the disaster the next day declared: “Canada’s university community is stunned and in mourning as the scope of the tragedy becomes clear.” One week after the crash, on January 15, universities across Canada held a moment of silence to mourn and honour those killed. Our follow-up story in February listed the names of 61 victims directly affiliated with Canadian universities. Cheryl Foy of Ontario Tech University tried to make sense of the senseless in her reflections on the tragedy of Flight 752, as did Merhdad Hariri, an Iranian-Canadian and CEO of the Canadian Science Policy Centre, who lamented in an opinion article the “tremendous talent that perished on that ill-fated airplane.”

The pandemic changed everything

Our COVID-19 coverage started on March 6 with news the federal government had earmarked $27 million for a rapid-research fund in response to the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. On March 11, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. University Affairs posted its first daily (now twice weekly) COVID update on March 12, as Laurentian University became the first university in Canada to suspend in-person classes. A day later, dozens of postsecondary institutions had followed Laurentian’s lead. By the end of March, universities across the country had paused business as usual and rallied to help by organizing equipment drives, making sanitizer and personal protective equipment, and volunteering in their local communities. The following is a selection of our COVID-19 coverage in three areas: teaching, learning and pedagogy; research; and leadership and governance.

Teaching, learning and pedagogy 


Leadership and governance

Career advice during a pandemic

When most of the world was sent to work from home in March, many of us were left scrambling trying to set up our home offices. Luckily, we were able to quickly provide our readers with some great tips on issues like what office hours will look like now, how to transfer your course online and how to maintain relationships with students. Many grad students even changed their research focus as a way to adapt during the pandemic. Others who may have been starting their job hunt plans were forced to rethink how they would now network with others in their field, apply for jobs and build some career resilience. Students have been leaning on their career services teams more than ever, which means career practitioners have even more reason to take care of themselves and take the time to acknowledge that being vulnerable right now is OK, and that students need to make time and space for their work.

A reckoning on racism

For many, 2020 wasn’t only defined by the pandemic; it was also defined by racial inequalities. The deaths of people of colour at the hands of police, including George Floyd in the United States and Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Canada, sparked massive protests and put a spotlight on systemic racism within our institutions, including universities. We highlighted two events, the Strike for Black Lives and Scholar Strike Canada, and shared powerful and important opinion pieces from Karine Coen-SanchezNandini MaharajMonica Maly and columnist Sheila Cote-Meek about their experiences as racialized women in both academia and life. In the top 10 of our most read stories this year was a feature that looked at a ban on Black students attending Queen’s University’s medical school, which was only repealed a couple of years ago. We also spoke to founders of the National Black Graduate Network about its goals of connecting and supporting Black graduate students across Canada. And, in November, we published a story about the Canadian Arab Institute’s partnership with Brock University and the University of Toronto to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on racialized communities. It’s not as if racism and anti-racism efforts didn’t exist before 2020. But as Scholar Strike Canada co-organizer Min Sook Lee pointed out, we are living in the midst of a pandemic, economic crises and a reckoning on systemic racism. “We are in a revolutionary moment.”

Most read of 2020

1. COVID-19: updates for Canada’s universities
Our regular updates on the situation facing Canada’s universities with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. What happens in September? Prepare yourselves for ‘Social Distancing U’
In April, Lisa Young looked ahead to the fall semester and asked: Will we be able to welcome students back to campus in September, or will we still be hunkered down at home in front of our computers?

3. What Canadian researchers are discovering about the psychosocial effects of the pandemic
Intimate partner violence, families with young children, people with disabilities and Indigenous mental health are among the many areas under investigation.

4. We will still be emergency teaching in fall 2020
Teaching remotely is far more complicated than simply putting content online, argued Andrea Eidinger.

5. Schrodinger’s semester: let’s clear the uncertainty for fall 2020
In May, Ken Steele wrote that we must plan for online delivery throughout he upcoming academic year. Any other announcement is just wishful thinking.

This article originally appeared in our weekly newsletter. Sign up to get updates

Follow us on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

The UA editorial team.
Post a comment
University Affairs moderates all comments according to the following guidelines. If approved, comments generally appear within one business day. We may republish particularly insightful remarks in our print edition or elsewhere.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *