Students in higher education could be informed within weeks that they are required to be vaccinated in order to attend University in September, the Foreign Secretary has warned.
Whilst more than 70% of adults have now had both jabs, Mr Raab told the BBC that “we need to close that margin” – with mandatory vaccinations in universities one way to increase the number.
Around a third of young people have not yet had their first dose of a Coronavirus vaccine across the UK, with a similar number reflected in Leicestershire – despite everyone in the country now having being offered it.
According to the Times, the Prime Minister is “raging” at this low vaccine uptake amongst young people, and wants to apply pressure to students who are reluctant to get a jab.
Dominic Raab said yesterday that “when we come to the crunch, these decisions will be taken in September. We’ve got some time to go.
“Right the way through this pandemic we’ve had to take advice and decisions based on the evidence when we see it.”
Asked when students would be told of this change, the minister said that “we will certainly make sure university students have advance warning, of course we’re going to be mindful of this.”
Currently, the government plans to require two jabs to go to nightclubs and other crowded venues in England come mid-September, but this could be extended to those staying in university halls and attending lectures in-person.
They hope that the plans, which require potential punters to be vaccinated by the end of this week to meet the deadline, will also help increase the uptake of vaccines in the age group.
The existence of similar plans for universities was not ruled out by Education minister Vicky Ford, or a Downing Street Spokesperson.
Universities across the country have been understood to be sceptical of the idea of vaccine certification, with unions resoundingly rejecting the notion altogether.
Whilst current regulations allow for businesses and institutions to reject custom without a recent Covid test, the proposed policy would put this to the wayside for universities, mandating evidcence of a vaccine instead, something rejected by many on civil liberties grounds.
One official stated that “it seems fairly late in the process to be bringing this in, and universities don’t want to spend all autumn fighting court cases,” hinting at the possibility of successful challenges to any new legislation.
UCU chairperson, Jo Grady, said that “making vaccinations compulsory as a condition to access their education is wrong and would be hugely discriminatory against those who are unable to be vaccinated, and international students.”
She added that “instead of chasing headlines as ministers go off on holiday, it would be much more useful if the prime minister worked with universities and NHS providers to enable and sensitively encourage student vaccination without resorting to compulsion”.
The UCU also accused the government of “lining students up as scapegoats” for a potential wave in the autumn, describing it as “finger pointing nonsense”.
Nottingham Trent sociologist Robert Dingwall, told The Independent that the focus should instead be on getting the vaccines to places where young people gather rather than threatening them with exclusion from nightclubs, pubs and lecture halls if they fail to get their jabs – with pop-up clinics at festivals, nightlife areas or freshers’ events at colleges suggested as alternatives.
Despite this, Education Minister Vicky Ford defended the plans, arguing that “we don’t want to go back to a situation where large parts of education were closed to many young people and children, and a key part of doing that is having that double-vaccinated population.
“So I think we need to continue to encourage our young people to step forward, have the vaccination, and that is the way that they can have that freedom and confidence that they’ll be able to have that full university life.”
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