The government has said it has no plans to require students in English universities to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if they want to attend lectures or live in halls of residence.
The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, had indicated that a decision would be made in September, with students getting “advance warning” of any vaccine mandate.
But over the weekend, the Department for Education said that such a plan was not currently under consideration.
“Vaccinations are important in helping to keep higher education settings safe for when students return in the autumn term, and we strongly encourage all students to take up the offer of both vaccine doses,” a department spokesperson was quoted as saying.
“The government currently has no plans to require the use of the [National Health Service] COVID pass for access to learning; however, universities and FE [further education] colleges are encouraged to promote the offer of the vaccine and should continue to conduct risk assessments for their particular circumstances.”
The BBC reported that concerns had been raised over how universities could police their undergraduates’ vaccination status, and that there were questions about how a vaccine mandate could be squared with a legally binding offer of a university place.
More broadly, there has been growing discontent among Conservative backbenchers over plans to require people to have had two jabs before they can go to nightclubs and other crowded venues.
Universities had apparently been brought into the vaccine mandate plan by U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson, who was reported to have been “raging” about the relatively low vaccine uptake among young people.
But the University and College Union said the prime minister was “trying to pin the blame on students for not yet taking up a vaccine that they haven’t been prioritized to receive.” Making access to education dependent on taking up a vaccine was “wrong,” said the union’s general secretary, Jo Grady.
Ministers may hope that just the suggestion that vaccinations might have been made mandatory for campus life may have encouraged more students to come forward to get vaccinated.
In a joint statement, sector leaders said universities continued “to engage, explain and encourage new and existing students to take up the opportunity to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible.” Pop-up vaccination sites are being set up on campuses over the summer and at the start of the next academic year.
“Young people have made tremendous sacrifices during the pandemic, and evidence suggests that vaccine intent remains high among higher education students,” said the statement.
“We remain confident that the overwhelming majority of students in higher education will take up the opportunity to be vaccinated, and we will continue to take every opportunity to encourage that they do so.”
Hundreds of U.S. 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-19 “green pass” to attend most in-person classes. This requires them to be fully inoculated or to have recently recovered from coronavirus.