Universities balk at ‘Covid passports’ plan for English campuses


UK universities updates

Student and university leaders have hit out at a suggestion that “Covid passports” could be required at universities in England as the government looks to boost vaccination uptake among the young.

The National Union of Students on Monday said it was “appalling” that plans for mandatory immunisation had been pushed without consultation with the higher education sector.

University leaders raised ethical and practical concerns, but Downing Street attempted to maintain pressure on the estimated 32 per cent of under-30s who have not taken up the offer of a jab, according to FT analysis of data from Public Health England, to do so.

The government said on Monday it had not ruled out plans to make students show proof of vaccination in order to attend lectures or use university accommodation. “We are still looking at the scope for vaccination certifications,” No 10 told a media briefing.

According to senior Conservatives, the prime minister is irritated by the relatively low uptake of vaccination among young people, in spite of initiatives such as “walk-in” centres.

Senior Tories said Boris Johnson was impressed at the way French president Emmanuel Macron coerced young people into getting jabbed by introducing a mandatory “health pass” for entry to bars, restaurants, trains and planes.

Queues for a nightclub in London
Queues for a nightclub in London. Covid passports will be needed to enter such venues from September © Rob Pinney/Getty Images

In the UK, Covid passports, showing proof of vaccination, a negative test result or immunity, will be needed to enter nightclubs from September, while ministers are discussing broadening the scope to big sporting events and music festivals.

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The Premier League has said it still developing a certification system to ensure safety at football matches.

The NUS and Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said they had not been consulted by the government about mandatory vaccine passes.

Larissa Kennedy, NUS president, said students were in general “incredibly eager” to be vaccinated. “Preventing students from accessing their education with yet another half-baked policy is unacceptable.

Robert Halfon, Conservative chair of the Commons education committee, told the FT: “They are leaking stuff out on purpose to get people to have the vaccine.

“People have paid over £9,000 [to go to university]. What are you going to do — ask them to give back the money?” He said the same approach would have to apply to other groups, such as apprentices.

David Bell, vice-chancellor of the University of Sunderland, said the university would “as always . . . follow government rules”, but identified “practical obstacles” around whether to extend the requirement to staff. “Students should not be ‘picked on’ and subjected to rules and requirements that don’t apply more broadly.”

The Association of University Legal Practitioners, a professional body, suggested placing such requirements on students could breach legislation around mandatory immunisation. 

The proposals risked creating a two-tier education system, said some vice-chancellors, as unvaccinated pupils would be forced to study online.

The Russell Group, which represents 24 universities, said it strongly encouraged students to get inoculated. “It is important the government provides clear advice to the public on the benefits of vaccination and works with students and universities to encourage take-up.”

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The government said it encouraged universities to promote the offer of jabs and implement “sensible and proportionate” Covid-19 control measures. “If we consider that further measures are needed for these settings, we will set these out in the usual way,” it added.



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