Forcing students to get vaccinated ‘wrong’, says university union

UCU says government should ‘sensitively encourage’ inoculation after reports of prime minister ‘raging’ over low uptake

July 26, 2021
London, United Kingdom - March 19 2021 People walk past a Covid-19 Vaccination Centre sign outside Westminster Abbey.
Source: iStock

Forcing students at English universities to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 if they want to attend lectures or live in halls of residence would be “wrong”, a union said.

The Times reported that Boris Johnson had suggested making vaccination compulsory for students in higher and further education, subject to medical exemptions. The prime minister was said to have been “raging” about the relatively low vaccine uptake among young people.

But Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said such rules would be “hugely discriminatory against those who are unable to be vaccinated, and international students”.

The union has called for all students to be offered two vaccine doses before the autumn term, but it has argued that the government should avoid resorting to compulsion.

“Students should be prioritised for vaccinations, to ensure that as many as possible have the opportunity to be vaccinated by September, but 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,” Dr Grady said.

“Sadly, this looks and smells like a prime minister trying to pin the blame on students for not yet taking up a vaccine that they haven’t been prioritised to receive.

“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 Times reported that the Department for Education had reservations “about the legality and practicability” of compulsory vaccination for students “given that universities are independent and offers to study are legally binding”. The department has been approached for comment by Times Higher Education.

Vicky Ford, the children’s minister, did not deny that the government was considering requiring double vaccination for attending lectures and staying in university accommodation when interviewed on Times Radio earlier. But the plans are thought to be at an early stage.

Less than 60 per cent of 18- to 25-year-olds in the UK have had a first vaccination dose, according to the latest figures. Requiring vaccination for entry to nightclubs or football matches is also thought to be under consideration.

But Robert Halfon, the Conservative chair of the Commons Education Committee, said making vaccination compulsory for students would be “wrong-headed”.

“It’s like something out of Huxley’s Brave New World, where people with vaccine passports will be engineered into social hierarchies – ie, those who will be given a higher education and those who do not,” he told The Times.

“Where does this stop? Do we fire apprentices who have not had the vaccine? Do we remove older students from FE colleges? Do we close down adult education courses where adults have not had the vaccine? I hope not.”

Hundreds of US universities have made vaccination compulsory if students want to return to campus this autumn. In Israel, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, students must have a Covid “green pass” to attend most in-person classes. This requires them to be fully inoculated or to have recently recovered from coronavirus.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Register
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles

Reader's comments (9)

I would have thought that she might just be concerned about the safety of her members. Perhaps she mentioned this but it has not been fully reported?
Surely those that can't be vaccinated would be exempt ... wouldn't they? [Though knowing Boris ... ]
I am in complete agreement it is un reasonable to curtail our inalienable civil right to pass on whatever disease we might be carrying to everyone else and damn the consequence.
Ethically I'm opposed to compulsion, however I would hope that anyone intelligent enough to have a place to study at university would also be smart enough to get vaccinated as soon as they get the chance! (Provided, that is, that they do not have a counterindicating medical condition.) Better rather to ensure that there are pop-up vaccination clinics at universities during the beginning of the academic year to give arriving students the opportunity to get vaccinated as they arrive if they haven't already done so. Or is this too practical an idea?
You would think that the lecturers would be smart enough to be vaccinated but I know one who has declined it as he believes there will be long term side effects. Well mate, COVID has long term effects too. I think you are selfish and irresponsible! I'm, a lecturer, fully vaccinated and because of my age will have a booster. What if some of the students are un-vaccinated?
As an academic teaching students entering health care vaccination for HepB and testing for HIV flu vaccination etc. Has been present for many years to protect both staff and patients. Indeed a professional responsibility is found in the various codes of conduct which would expect all registrants to take actions which protect their clients. So why oh why is COVID so different?
Why oh why Nigel! Well, maybe it's because these are experimental vaccines that have been pushed through while cutting corners! A normal vaccine trial takes 7-10 years to see what if any, adverse health effects present themselves in the short, mid to long term.
As a lecturer who’ll be facing classrooms full of students in a month’s time and have concerns for my own health, I’d like to see double vaccination compulsory - except for those with valid exemption. Universities have a duty of care towards us, the employees, and this extends to taking all necessary measures to protect our safety and health.
Certified to have had two pricks or stay away, anything else and the cash-cow internationals are likely to stay at home and not keep the VC's in the style they've become accustomed to.

Sponsored