Weekly news roundup: Landmark STEM investment bill passes through the Senate and Canada unveils first step in border reopening

By Lily Martin• Last updated: Oct 30, 2023
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This week’s news comes from the United States and Canada, with the Canadian government announcing the first phase of border reopening.

In the US, a landmark bill to promote investment in STEM in the country has passed through the Senate with bipartisan support, and concerns are raised about confusing vaccination rules for incoming students for the fall semester.

Here’s your weekly higher education news roundup. 

Landmark US STEM investment bill passes through Senate

Increased calls to use US federal research spending in universities have resulted in a bipartisan bill in Congress this month.

The US Innovation and Competition Act, worth $250 billion, was passed through the Senate with both Republican and Democrat support. It’s aim is to enlarge the US science industry to better compete with China. This includes stepping up domestic manufacturing of electronic device parts, including semiconductors.

Within the act there is also a provision of $10 billion to transform a minimum of 18 US cities into “regional technology hubs” with funding delegated through a national competition based on bids from local government and universities.

The act also will boost the United States’ scientific research, the development of artificial intelligence and space exploration.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (Democrat - New York) labelled the bill a “once-in-a-generation investment in American science and American technology.”

It will offer a substantial opportunity for greater STEM investment at US universities and colleges. It is due to be heard in the House of Representatives in late June or July.

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Canada unveils first phase of border reopening

The Canadian government has unveiled the first phase of border reopening, with entry having been severely restricted during the Covid-19 pandemic.

All direct commercial and private passenger flights to Canada from India will remain restricted until July 21. However, the Public Health Agency of Canada announced last week that due to vaccine rollout success, it will introduce “cautious adjustments”.

These include measures that allow asymptomatic travellers that are fully vaccinated with recognised vaccines to not be required to quarantine or isolate themselves after arrival at the border. Those arriving by air who meet the same conditions will not have to stay at a government-authorised hotel also.

The news has been welcomed by Universities Canada, who labelled the move as a “strong positive” for its member institutions.

Travellers will still need to meet mandatory testing requirements, and present a quarantine plan at the border in case authorities deem that they do not meet all quarantine exemption conditions.

Students who are not yet vaccinated can still arrive in the country and receive vaccines, but they will be required to meet testing and quarantine requirements. 

Those with a valid study permit or letter of introduction proving study permit approval from an institution with a Covid-19 readiness plan have been permitted to enter the country during the pandemic.

All direct passenger flights to Canada from India will be subject to restrictions until at least July 21 alongside air passengers coming from India indirectly, due to high case numbers.

Calls for clarity on US university vaccine requirements

There is growing confusion about US vaccine requirements for international students arriving in the country for the fall semester this year.

Rules vary substantially depending on the college or university, with a database from The Chronicle of Higher Education showing that more than 500 US colleges and universities will require students to be vaccinated before the start of the term.

The picture is complicated further by the variety of requirements depending on the state legislation the university is subject to.

Sarah Spreitzer from the American Council on Education has said that US institutions are working to remain flexible and supportive.

Nevertheless, Sudhanshu Kaushik, founder of North American Association of Indian Students, described the differing requirements as causing confusion.

“There are over 500 universities and theoretically every university, depending on the politics of the local region, can have a different policy.”

Related tags:
news roundup
STEM in the USA
Canada border restrictions
USA vaccine requirements
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