After the last 18 months of pandemic panic, students are concerned about going back to university and how different their university experience is going to be compared to what they’ve expected their whole lives. Likewise, universities are concerned that having thousands of students return to campus will likely cause an influx of covid cases and a rise in infection rates.
To address this, the government did at one point discuss having covid passports (which are currently being used for many live music venues, pubs and clubs) for university lectures and residential halls. However, this idea was shelved for a while when the logistics were discussed, with fears of the rules overwhelming universities. Having said that, government officials have said that the conversation is not over, and Boris Johnson has been pushing for the conversation to continue. Unfortunately, this has left a lot of students asking: do I need to be vaccinated to go to university?
Despite the government shelving the matter, universities are autonomous bodies and are capable of policing themselves with matters such as covid regulations. Many universities still require their students to wear masks, for example, despite the legal mandate being removed. One university taking things into its own hands is Hartpury University and College in Gloucester.
Why has the university decided on these rules?
Universities have recommended certain vaccines to students for a long time. Many students are advised to get vaccinated against meningitis prior to moving to university and the MMR vaccines. These are both given throughout childhood and teen years, but most universities will provide locations for students to go and get them for anyone who has missed them.
The reason behind this is due to the nature of university as a melting pot of cultures. With students travelling from abroad and up and down the country, it is never possible to tell whether or not people in your halls or your class are carrying diseases like meningitis, mumps, or covid. This is exactly why ‘freshers flu’ exists; it’s your body reacting to cold viruses from places other than your home city that it isn’t used to. So the more students that are vaccinated against the deadly diseases, the safer the university is, and the safer the country is, as they won’t be able to pass the illness on.
With diseases like covid, which are still an ever-present issue, universities must be vigilant in making sure their students and staff don’t play a part in spreading the disease. With new variants appearing regularly and the nature of the disease, universities are a prime spot for the virus to spread. For obvious reasons, universities want to avoid this. This is why all universities shut and stayed shut throughout the lockdowns.
While most students are not in a category deemed most ‘at risk’, many students have vulnerable families, work with the public, or have chronic illnesses. Plus, many faculty are at risk and could catch the virus from their students and potentially end up in the hospital from it.
Hartpury University has announced that vaccines will be a “mandatory requirement” for students living in halls to show that they have had at least one of their vaccinations. Likewise, sixth-form students at the connected college will be unable to live at the college without vaccination. The vice-principal, Claire Whitworth, explained to students and parents that: “The vaccine protects you, protects others, and will allow us all to lead a ‘new normal’ life, including the best possible Hartpury experience.”
Whitworth went on to say, “In order to benefit from the most effective protection against Covid-19, it is a mandatory requirement that all eligible students in onsite residential accommodation will engage with the Covid-19 vaccination programme”. The university’s policy also applies to students who hope to join sports activities outside of timetabled sessions and who wish to use the livery.
What are people saying about it?
The university likely knew that this decision would cause a backlash, with plenty of people in the UK refusing to get the vaccine for personal, religious, or health reasons. One student’s parent told the Telegraph that she felt her daughters “dreams were in tatters”. The parent went on to say that the institution’s stance is “completely inappropriate” and “causing a huge amount of distress” to her daughter and the whole family. However, the mother also added that she “[felt] it’s [her] choose as a mother to say no” and that she is “not an anti-vaxxer”.
Additionally, following Hartpury’s decision, there are rumours that other universities may soon follow suit.
What are other universities doing?
Other universities are also creating their own rules vis-a-vis covid in order to provide their students and faculty with as much protection as they can. For many universities, this comes in the form of still requesting students wear masks and reducing capacity on large lectures. Others are still insisting lectures be held online, allowing students on campus for smaller grouped activities like seminars.
Some universities, like Ulster University, have asked all of their students and all of its staff whether they have had their covid vaccine, and if not, to detail why.