In an email sent to students on Oct. 5, Deputy Provost Fabrice Labeau announced that all outgoing exchange and independent study abroad programs would be cancelled for the Winter 2022 semester.
Labeau attributed the decision to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding public health regulations, vaccination rates, and restrictions, all of which vary from country to country. In addition, the email cited the federal government’s Global Level 3 travel advisory ranking, which warns against all non-essential travel outside of Canada.
Frédérique Mazerolle, a McGill media relations officer, stated that one of the reasons for cancelling international exchanges was due to the university’s inability to monitor students’ adherence to health guidelines abroad.
“Traveling for […] university-sponsored activities in the context of the pandemic inherently presents a higher risk than in a normal situation,” Mazerolle wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “Due to the significant planning and logistical requirements involved, [the decision] will not be subject to change based on public health developments in the coming months.”
A petition on change.org created by McGill students and named “Students for Winter 2022 Exchange!” has been making its rounds on social media in response to the announcement. The approximately 800 signatories as of Oct. 13 include a wide range of individuals, such as parents of students, students who were set to study abroad in the winter, and would-be inbound exchange students.
Juliette Debray, U2 Arts and one of the creators of the petition, said she was surprised by the abruptness of the announcement and was skeptical about McGill’s rationale for cancelation.
“I was really taken aback,” Debray said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “McGill did not really give a warning that there was a possibility of cancellation. Logically speaking, it does not follow through. Their main reason was the varying public health landscape in different countries, but wouldn’t [a] logical follow-up in that case be to do a varying response?”
Labeau’s email emphasized that McGill students will not be able to take online courses with their host universities. Debray pointed out that many Canadian universities, including Concordia, UQAM, and Queen’s University, have chosen to pursue a more flexible approach, such as granting students the option to do online classes abroad or process exchange nominations on a country-by-country basis.
“I just found out today that UQAM also canceled their winter semester exchanges, but are allowing exceptions for students whose host universities are [in] their home country or for students who have only this year left to do an exchange,” Debray said. “They’re also allowing students to do online exchanges if they want to, so clearly it’s possible.”
Labeau clarified in the cancellation announcement that exemptions may be made to students who wish to pursue an Independent Study Away that requires no travel and is completed in the student’s home country.
Cameron Bailey, U3 Arts, had been making arrangements to attend the University of Edinburgh this winter. Bailey expressed frustration with McGill’s handling of the decision, highlighting McGill’s failure to reimburse the exchange fee deposited by students.
“They made a blanket call instead of looking into COVID-19 policies for different countries which drastically differ […] and they also kept our $150 deposit,” Bailey said.
Max Garcia, U3 Arts, created the change.org petition alongside Debray. While Garcia is doubtful that McGill will reverse its decision, he hopes the petition might encourage the administration to consult students in future exchange-related decisions.
“To be honest, I do not foresee any changes really happening,” Garcia said. “I am not even the person who is the most angry about this, but this petition is for those who are angrier than me and would like to see something done. Maybe [the university] will not rethink their decision, but who knows, maybe McGill will start including students in the decision-making process.”