Hong Kong universities impose Covid vaccine rules

Several city institutions will not ban unvaccinated students from campus outright but will subject them to testing and may limit access to housing

五月 27, 2021
Hong Kong
Source: iStock

Most of Hong Kong’s universities have announced Covid regulations that will not ban unvaccinated students from campus outright but will subject them to potentially costly and time-consuming testing and may limit access to housing. 

The move by five of the city’s eight main higher education institutions came as they prepared for a return to physical classes next term. But it has been criticised by some students’ unions in a sign that vaccine hesitancy among young people is partly tied to distrust of the government. Only 12 per cent of Hong Kong’s population is fully vaccinated, despite widespread availability of the jabs.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive and ex officio chancellor of all the universities, called on 25 May for workplaces to encourage vaccination, adding that government incentives “may even cause the opposite effect”.  

“I do confess we could do much better in terms of vaccination. We have enough supply,” she said earlier.

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) said that all students and staff, including contractors, must be vaccinated or pay for regular testing out of pocket. Tests cost HK$240 (£22) at Hong Kong community centres.  

Vaccinated students will be prioritised for campus housing, which is in high demand given the city’s expensive rents. There may be exemptions or aid for those with medical or financial needs.  

“Campus life, grounded in face-to-face communication and collaboration…has been largely unavailable for far too long,” HKUST’s senior management wrote in a plea for the community to be vaccinated. “We are making every effort to resume normal operations in the coming fall term. In doing so, we must do our utmost to safeguard the interests of all our members. 

“It has been two difficult and challenging years in Hong Kong. Many of us are stressed and fatigued as we face an uncertain future,” the message continued. “Let us work together.”   

Hong Kong Polytechnic University will require unvaccinated students and staff to pay for tests, with the exception of those with medical conditions, according to local media. 

Other universities are limiting the rules to residential colleges and halls. 

At the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), unvaccinated dormitory residents will be tested before entry and every two weeks thereafter at their own expense. Some individual colleges said unvaccinated students would be ineligible for dormitory spaces.  

Alan Chan, CUHK’s provost, said that “it becomes all the more important to expand vaccinations”, as the university hopes to return this September to face-to-face teaching, campus learning activities and full capacity at residential halls.  

All unvaccinated dormitory residents at the University of Hong Kong will need to pay for a weekly antigen test from 25 August.  

“With common areas and shared facilities – including pantries, bathrooms and laundry rooms – interaction and close contact in dormitories are constant and unavoidable,” an HKU spokesperson told Times Higher Education. “The university believes that residence-based activities can be resumed at maximum capacity if all or the vast majority of residents have been vaccinated.” 

Lingnan University Hong Kong, a liberal arts college, will use a similar rule for dormitory residents.  

However, City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has declined to issue a vaccine mandate. A CityU spokesperson told THE that “the university is not a suitable place for paternalistic governance, but encourages faculty, students and staff to consider vaccinations according to their personal circumstances”.

Some US and Israeli universities already require students to be vaccinated before they will be allowed to return to campus next term. 

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com

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