Eduvation Blog

Your Friday Ray of Sunshine!

Good morning, and TGIF!

No, you’re not imagining it: there was no Insider newsletter yesterday. (Did you miss me?)  I wound up my overlong Wednesday issue with the warning that I wasn’t sure what I could pull together for Thursday, but ultimately I needed to take a breather. Summarizing a month’s worth of developments has already taken 3 issues that are 50% longer than normal…

The final, and most important, theme is also the most hopeful: vaccines. We’ll get started on that subject today, and include some other good news and upsides for a Friday: additional government funding, new compassionate grading announcements, and hopeful plans to return to campus in 2021!

Plus #ICYMI, a commercial for Capella U that combines cuddly and high tech!


A Little Good News

Higher ed institutions struggling to manage revenue drops and pandemic expenses have been waiting for government bailouts. This week, some started to see results…

The US Dept of Education released >$21 billion in coronavirus relief money to colleges, as part of a $900B COVID19 aid package. Colleges are to split the funds between covering their COVID19 costs and providing direct aid for students. Even for-profit institutions are receiving $681M.  Education Dive

Nova Scotia announced Tuesday that it will provide $25M in pandemic relief to all 10 universities in the province, based on expense information provided. Dal will get $9.5M, StFX $3.7M, SMU $2.9M, Acadia and CBU $2.2M each.  Global


Many have argued that rapid testing is the best way to reopen campuses, and we’re starting to see more availability…

Laurentian U is one of 3 Ontario schools providing on-campus COVID19 rapid testing for asymptomatic students.  CBC

“With everyone coming back from really big hot spots, I think it’s incredibly important for everyone to have the reassurance just in case they had come in contact with a positive case and not know it while they were home.”Lexey Burns, Student, Laurentian U



Compassionate Policies

Over the past month I’ve collected more announcements of compassionate grading and withdrawal policies in CdnPSE, to update my master spreadsheet. (And today a big thank you to Elizabeth Elle, AVP T&L at SFU, for generously sharing her own research to add to the pile!)

UBC and York have existing policies that allow students to convert up to 12 credits to pass/fail grades instead.  UBC  |  York

So far, I’ve noted 14 CdnPSEs announcing some form of new grading flexibility for the Fall 2020 term. (7 will permit 1 or 2 grade changes, and 7 have indicated no limit.) Students are still lobbying at SFU, uSherbrooke and uWaterloo.

The new additions:

Brock undergrads can convert grades to “Credit/No Credit during Disruption” or a special withdrawal code, after grades have been released. (Limits on the number of courses may be forthcoming in January.) Brock

“Students are tired, stressed, anxious and burned out and we know the ‘new normal’ hasn’t quite become normal yet. We can’t make the pandemic go away, and we can’t return to campus until it is considered safe to do so, but we hope this added flexibility with respect to grading will help students make choices that reflect the challenges these times may be posing and protect their record for the future.” – Lynn Wells, VP Academic, Brock U


Dalhousie will allow most students to convert letter grades to GPA-neutral PASS or ILL after final grades have been submitted, up to Feb 1.  Dal

uToronto students in Arts & Science can convert up to 2 courses total to CR/NCR up to Jan 15.  UT

uWaterloo’s Undergraduate Student Association is publicly urging a compassionate grading policy “across the board.” So far, the administration has responded that students can petition for non-credit grading in exceptional circumstances. CTV


There are now 5 CdnPSEs that have extended the course withdrawal deadline, including most recently:

University College of the North (MB) extended its voluntary course withdrawal date until Jan 8. UCN


A Real Shot in the Arm


If there’s one thing that will determine what Fall 2021 looks like for higher ed, it’s the efficacy of COVID19 vaccines, and the efficiency of vaccination efforts. TONS has happened over the past month, and again I can’t squeeze it all into one issue.

Today, let’s start with the vaccines themselves. (The Regulatory Affairs Professional Society tracks 63 vaccines, approved or in development. The New York Times details 93 vaccine candidates.)  


The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was the first to start clinical trials, last May. It is a 2-dose messenger RNA vaccine with 95% efficacy, but must be stored at -70°C. (Most other vaccines can be stored at 2-8°C). It has now been cleared for use in 49 countries across North America, Europe and the Middle East. Pfizer plans to produce 1.3B doses this year, and has contracts for 816M: 300M to the EU, 200M to the US, 120M to Japan, and 20M to Canada. (This week, Canada secured another 20M doses for this spring.)

The Moderna vaccine is also a 2-dose mRNA vaccine, and it was 95% effective in large-scale trials. Of 400M doses committed, half are to the US, and 40M to Canada.  The UK approved it for emergency use on Jan 8, and it has also been approved in Canada, the EU, Israel, UK, France and Switzerland.

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, from the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, has apparently proven 91% effective in trials with 40,000 subjects. It received government approval for use a month before clinical trials began, in September. India has committed to buy 200M doses, Russian 160M, and Brazil 100M, but so far only Russia and Palestine have actually authorized its use.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is more a traditional adenovirus vaccine, which also requires 2 doses. It got into clinical trials in late August, with some mixed results, but has proven 70% effective in trials with 65,000 subjects. Countries have placed orders for 3B doses, including 1B for India, 300M for the US, and 20M for Canada. With 53M doses on hand, Australia is debating whether its efficacy is good enough, when compared to the mRNA alternatives. So far, it has been approved by the UK, India, Argentina, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, and Morocco. The EU regulator is currently considering it, and could approve it later this month.

“The question is really whether it is able to provide herd immunity. We are playing a long game here. We don’t know how long that will take.”Stephen Turner, President, Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology


China has 3 vaccines in production:

Private-sector company Sinovac Biotech started trials in July for its CoronaVac vaccine, and received government approval in September, long before any results were available. 10 countries have already signed orders for 380M doses, particularly 50M doses to Indonesia, 50M to Turkey, and 46M to Brazil. On Monday, Indonesia authorized the CoronaVac vaccine for emergency use, and it hopes to have 1.5M medical workers inoculated by February. (The full 182M population will take 15 months.) But there is considerable controversy over its efficacy: Sinovac claims 78% efficacy with 2 doses, but trials around the world have found wildly different results: 86% in the UAE, 91% in Turkey, 65% in Indonesia and barely 50% in Brazil. The issue seems to be whether “efficacy” refers to complete immunity, prevention of severe illness, or prevention of death. China claims it is “100% effective in preventing severe cases, could reduce hospitalizations by 80%.” A December poll found that just 37% of Indonesians were willing to be vaccinated.

“I’m not rejecting vaccines, I’m rejecting Sinovac’s.”Yusdeny Lanasakti, Doctor, East Java


State-owned Sinopharm started clinical trials in July with 50,000 subjects, and received early approval in late August before any results were known. Hundreds of thousands of doses were administered in China before results in December. It claims 50% efficacy with 2 doses. It has commitments to deliver 88M doses to Pakistan, 75M to the Middle East, and 60M to Indonesia.

“As wealthier countries deploy vaccines with efficacy rates greater than 90%, poorer countries have been left with fewer options. As a result, health analysts warn, the developing world probably will be dealing with the coronavirus for far longer than wealthier nations.”Washington Post


India’s Bharat Biotech reportedly took a “regulatory shortcut” instead of waiting for results from late-stage clinical trials, leaving many skeptical as the country starts inoculating 30M front-line health workers. The sudden approval of Covaxin on Jan 2 was either because it may “hypothetically” be effective against the UK variant, or out of national pride. (India approved a version of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Jan 1, being manufactured locally by Serum Institute of India.)


Plenty of other vaccines are in development, but here are a sampling in phase 3 clinical trials…

CanSino Biologics has a single-dose vaccine which was approved for the Chinese military almost 3 months before clinical trials began. It is currently in phase 3 trials, but results are still unknown. It has contracts for 35M doses to Mexico, and 15M to Indonesia.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine started clinical trials in September with 70,000 participants. What’s exciting about it is that it requires just a single dose, and it can stay stable in a refrigerator. Early results are promising, with 90% of phase 2 participants creating neutralizing antibodies within 29 days. Of 346M doses committed, 200M are to the EU, 100M to the US, 30M to the UK, and 10M to Canada. Results from the trialshould be released in the next few weeks, but the company is already 2 months behind schedule for production.

Sanofi/GlaxoSmithKline has commitments for 300M doses of its vaccine to the EU, 100M to the US, 60M to the UK, and 52M to Canada. It is currently in phase 1 clinical trials.

A small US company, Novovax, is in phase 3 clinical trials with 45,000 volunteers in the US and Mexico for its new vaccine. Results of the trial are still pending, but Australia has committed to purchase 51M doses by mid-year if it proves effective. India has committed to 1B doses, the US 110M, and Canada 52M. The US Operation Warp Speed committed $1.6B in development funds.


Two Canadian vaccine candidates are still in early stages…

Medicago is a company based in Quebec City, with a plant-derived COVID19 vaccine candidate. Phase 1 clinical trials launched in July are promising: 2 doses caused a significant neutralizing antibody response in 100% of trial subjects – higher than in people who had recovered from COVID19 infections. Canada has contracted for up to 76M doses, subject to approval by Health Canada. Phase 2 trials will launch soon.

VIDO-InterVac, at uSaskatchewan, has developed another COVID19 vaccine, which will start phase 1 human clinical trials this month in Halifax.


The prospect of vaccines on the horizon make 2021 decidedly brighter than 2020 – but there remain many uncertainties, plenty of logistical challenges, and political and psychological barriers to go from vaccines in vials to vaccinations in arms. While millions of us wait patiently for our turn, society remains in “vaccine purgatory.”

Stay tuned for more on this theme next week!


Cases on Campus

Since Wednesday, CdnPSE announced 5 new cases of COVID19, including 2 “firsts” in Nova Scotia, which has reported 8 cases at universities so far this month…

Cape Breton U reported its first case of COVID19. A student who arrived Jan 5 has tested positive, and is isolating off-campus.  CBU

Laurier reported a student tested positive on Jan 6. (28 since Sept)  The Record

St Mary’s U (Halifax) announced Wednesday what I think is its first case of COVID19 in residence.  SMU

uWaterloo reported 2 more on-campus cases yesterday. (22 since Sept)  UW


Future Plans

As provinces lockdown for the second wave of COVID19 this winter, and the schedule for the vaccine roll-out becomes more clear, CdnPSEs are feeling more confident about announcing plans for Summer and even Fall 2021…

uManitoba announced this week that the Summer 2021 term will be delivered “primarily remotely,” with some exceptions, as in Winter 2021. UM

uSte Anne (NS) announced this week that the Spring and Summer 2021 French Immersion sessions have been cancelled due to COVID19. USA


So far, 3 institutions in Ontario have announced plans for Fall 2021: Redeemer (which will “maximize” F2F), York (planning for a “variety of formats”), and now…

Trent president Leo Groarke shared this week that “we are expecting (and planning for) in-person learning at our Peterborough and Durham campuses for fall 2021 and winter 2022.” But he also added, “For students who prefer remote learning… we will at the same time be providing enhanced options for virtual learning,” and “should conditions change, our multi-access approach to learning allows us to be responsive and deliver courses in a variety of learning formats.” A decision about Summer 2021 is still being made.  Trent



LHSC Presidential Saga

CEO Paul Woods was terminated by the London Health Sciences Centre board, and it would appear they did so with cause, since he has launched a $2.5M defamation and wrongful dismissal lawsuit. And Amy Walby, the chair of the board, has resigned her position.  CBC



Learn Smarter

Online Capella U has just released a slick, amusing 30-sec spot to promote their “FlexPath” self-paced degrees, with a cute toddler doing yoga, a puppy doing tricks, and a teen sneaking out of the house – while interacting with cutting edge tech like a smart exercise mirror, remote treat dispenser, and home security system. “The world can be pretty smart… We thought your education should be smart too…  Don’t just learn. Learn smarter.”  YouTube


As always, thanks for reading!  Hope you have a restful weekend. Stay safe!




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