Students at universities in England will not require Covid-19 vaccine passports to attend lectures or live in halls of residence, the government confirmed this weekend.
The announcement by the Department for Education followed a week of confusion about the possibility the government might require returning HE and FE students to take both doses of a vaccine before attending university.
A debate broke out about vaccine passports for universities and further education colleges when the Sunday Times reported on Sunday 26 July that ministers were considering the measure.
After ministers and Downing Street spokespeople refused to rule out the idea, foreign secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC on Thursday 29 July that ministers would decide in September. “We will certainly make sure university students have advance warning, of course we’re going to be mindful of this,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“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 DfE spokesperson was quoted as saying in The Guardian.
“The government currently has no plans to require the use of the NHS Covid pass for access to learning; however, universities and FE colleges are encouraged to promote the offer of the vaccine and should continue to conduct risk assessments for their particular circumstances.”
Universities and FE colleges are encouraged to promote the offer of the vaccine
– DfE spokesperson
The University and College Union and National Union of Students were highly critical of vaccine passports, which the BBC reports warned would be challenging to enforce.
Labour shadow education secretary Kate Green said ministers should open vaccination centres on university grounds to encourage uptake.
A recent YouGov survey of over 4,000 adults in Britain found that 62% believe all students should be required to take two doses of a Covid-19 vaccination before starting in-person teaching – just 23% opposed this measure. Support for this was position was highest among the over 65s (81% versus 11%) and lowest among 18–24-year-olds (40% versus 34%).