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Are UK universities allowed to require their students to have the Covid-vaccination prior to attending physical teaching? Have any announced the intention to do so for the next term? Would an allowance for "religious or philosophical" objections need to be made?

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    Some students may not have had the chance to get vaccinated by the time term starts in September/October. I'm 26 and will have only had my 2nd dose by mid-August. 18 year olds are at the bottom of the priority list when it comes to appointment booking.
    – astronat
    Jul 8 at 10:21
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    Note that the answer to this question is highly time dependent. A valid answer in early July 2021 may be obsolete a few week/months later. Look to current regulations if you need to know.
    – Buffy
    Jul 26 at 15:17
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    @Buffy is spot on - there's currently talk of not the universities requiring it but the government, for in-person teaching (in England at least - which government is responsible for what has been the cause of a lot of confusion recently). That's supposed to be backed up by an increase in availability of jabs for the appropriate age groups so it's meant to be possible, perhaps with a grace period
    – Chris H
    Jul 27 at 15:55
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No vaccination requirement has been announced by any UK university to date that I am aware of. It is not planned at the UK university where I work. I think this is very unlikely to happen, as it raises a range of legal and privacy issues. It would also be very controversial, as the topic of COVID-status certification generally has been here.

The UK government's current position on Covid-status certification is (as of 6 July 2021):

the Government will not mandate the use of COVID-status certification as a condition of entry for visitors to any setting at the present time

However, they do not rule it out for the future and they do not plan to prevent any business/organisation from imposing their own rules (subject to existing privacy/discrimination laws). Existing laws would most likely necessitate exceptions for medical, religious, and likely other reasons as discussed in this article.

As a note, most universities in the UK strongly encourage regular Covid testing (twice weekly at my institution) of their students and staff who are attending campus. However, the universities do not know if this is actually done by a particular individual or what their test results are. They also have no way of checking covid vaccine status as this is considered private health information.

Like anything Covid related this could change, but as it stands now a requirement for Covid vaccination for students to attend a UK university is technically legal, however it appears very unlikely. Of course it would be prudent to confirm this with your institution.

Update as of 26 July 2021: the UK Government has floated the idea of requiring vaccination for attendance at lectures. I still think this is unlikely to happen due to a variety of legal, logistical, and practical reasons but it seems more likely then it did when I first wrote this post.

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    @Arno, as I said in my response. Any organisation can impose their own rules subject to existing legislation. So theoretically a university could require vaccination, however I believe it is unlikely and I have not heard of any plans to do so.
    – atom44
    Jul 8 at 10:46
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    Second last paragraph " they do not plan to prevent any business/organisation from imposing their own rules". I have also clarified in the last paragraph that it would be technically legal for a university to impose such a restriction (but very unlikely in my opinion).
    – atom44
    Jul 8 at 10:53
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    ISTR the last university where I worked (which was in the UK) routinely put quite a bit of pressure on newly-matriculated undergraduates to reveal their tetanus vaccination status, so whatever legal or privacy issues arise will not be new. Jul 8 at 12:11
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    Ditto for the meningitis vaccine. Everyone was encouraged to get it before attending university (I think you usually get it as a teenager). But in my experience it was not enforced or checked so I find it unlikely they would do the same for Covid @Arno.
    – astronat
    Jul 8 at 12:16
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    @MassimoOrtolano I think the motivation was safety management in labs and workshops where sharp objects are commonplace. Jul 9 at 8:36
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I cannot answer for UK universities, but the planning for my university in Germany is that it will require either documentation of a vaccination, or of having recovered from COVID, or of having a negative test within the last x hours. Most of the entrances are closed, and all students can only enter the buildings by going past a person who checks their paperwork.

Students with religious or philosophical objections can thus participate in physical teaching by getting tested every day they want to attend university. Right now, the tests are free, but not offered by the university. So there is no financial hurdle for those students, but there is a real hurdle in terms of time and organization.

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  • Thanks for sharing this, it's interesting to hear how this is handled in Germany. However, for my question here I am really after the UK case specifically. Maybe we can have another question for Germany?
    – Arno
    Jul 8 at 9:08
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I had the chance to raise the question of making Covid vaccination mandatory for our students at a faculty meeting. The answer was our university leadership, union representatives and the Welsh government had discussed the issue, and arrived at the conclusion that it is not possible for our (Welsh) university to enforce a vaccination requirement on our students. So it seems we need to rely on our students doing the right thing on their own volition.

Update (July 29th): Raab is making some noises about maybe demanding students to be vaccinated in September (when there would be enough time for students to actually get both jabs). It is unclear whether he is taking about England or the UK. BBC

Update (July 31st): Right now, the government is saying they don't have any plans in this direction. Guardian

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  • Is the word 'enforce' the key point here? My naive understanding is that a private organisation could indeed introduce a rule that 'only vaccinated individuals are allowed to set foot on our premises' (provided there were sufficient exemptions so as not to discriminate against protected characteristics), but asking people to prove this by disclosing their medical records is the legally-problematic part - making the rule essentially pointless.
    – avid
    Jul 29 at 13:50
  • Disclosing full medical records wouldn't be necessary as there is already a system for disclosing CoVID vaccination status only in the UK. Universities already require proof of e.g. HepB to work in labs with primary human material. Jul 29 at 14:13
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    @avid Most universities in the UK are not really private organisations. Their status is peculiar and it's not obvious whether they are really public either.
    – fqq
    Jul 31 at 21:30
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The Council of French Rectors said it supports the full reopening of universities only after widespread vaccination of staff and students. But in general, European universities are more loyal to vaccine refusals. Great Britain, Holland, Belgium, Germany do not oblige employees and students to get vaccinated, although they actively promote it. The Council of Rectors of Italian Universities said: University staff are vaccinated as part of a national campaign to vaccinate certain people, but universities have not yet planned to require it from teachers and students of the profession. But the council of Spanish rectors even asked the staff: to consider universities in the priority group for vaccination.

In many European universities, vaccination is not required for continuing education on campus, and epidemiological control and prevention are provided through access control, dilution of streams, regular, and so on.

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    The question specifies UK.
    – Buffy
    Jul 26 at 15:16

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