It reports that on video calls from Chequers last week, he was “raging” about the relatively low vaccine uptake among young people and is determined to “apply pressure” – suggesting that students in both higher and further education should face compulsory vaccination, subject to certain medical exemptions.
However, The Times has been also told that the Department for Education has reservations about the legality and practicability of the plans “given that universities are independent and offers to study are legally binding”.
It’s not clear why – surely if vaccine passports can be made to work in nightclubs and football grounds (both of which are independent and can involve advance purchase), they can be made to work in education?
This morning’s POLITICO Playbook confirms the story. It says that government insiders last night didn’t outright reject the idea of requiring students to double-jab, although they said it was “premature” to suggest any decision was close.
Children’s minister Vicky Ford appeared on Sky News, GMB and the Today programme today to talk about adoption and was asked about the idea on all three appearances. On the first she ruled it out, but refused to rule it out on the latter two.
The Sky answer was probably a cue from Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi, who only last Thursday in the Commons answered a question from Bolton West MP Chris Green on the use of vaccine passports in use in educational settings such as sixth-form colleges or universities as follows:
On the last question, I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that in education or in any public buildings this will not be applicable.
If it does happen, do you do this by enrolment or facility? The mentions of settings like halls and lecture theatres could just be some story colour, or cover for the story given their density and ventilation. But just wait until the PM realises that there’s now more halls bedspaces in the private sector than universities.
And more to the point, just wait until he realises that the majority of universities have already announced online lectures to a) remove one of the barriers to recruitment during clearing, and b) so that international student fees can still be banked! (Providers suggesting that online lectures are about “safety” may find resisting this quite uncomfortable…)
Perhaps the bigger question is whether the under 30s that such a move would target are more or less likely than others to be refusenicks. And who knows whether this is another of what is now looking like a pattern of bluffs given opposition to vaccine passports from his own backbenches and Labour.
Is there that much difference between a mask mandate and a vaccine mandate? On Friday, publishing a revised set of Education Recovery Principles, UCU said that governments should ”fully vaccinate students or face even worse disruption to education”.
It also called for “strict health and safety measures to prevent outbreaks” on campus, including the wearing of high-quality face masks for both staff and students whilst on-site, and modifications to improve ventilation and allow for effective social distancing.
It’s interesting that they’ve not repeated the cruise ships/care homes stuff from last summer about halls – so if social distancing is to remain, the position seems to be “keep capacity of teaching spaces low, keep capacity of halls at 100%”.
That feels like a mistake we’ve made before.
In terms of timings, last week the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advised that operationally, “it is considered reasonable” to allow a lead-in time to offer vaccination to children who are within three months of their 18th birthday to ensure good uptake of vaccine in newly-turned 18 year olds.
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi then confirmed to Parliament that all four nations have accepted that recommendation and that it will be operationalised ASAP. It may be too tight for some, there’s lots of courses that have 17 year olds in their first year in Scotland, and we’ve still got an international student puzzle (which vaccines will be recognised? How do second jabs work if Jab 1 was not on our approved lists), but it’s progress.
But later Prime Minister Boris Johnson surprised a lot of people by also announcing – from his self-isolation bunker on “freedom day” – that vaccine passports will be required in both nightclubs and “other venues where large crowds gather”. We don’t know what that means yet – but even if you can be a student without a vaccine passports, various other start of year things could end up accidentally included, including enrolment, freshers fairs and social events.
Pubs are out, but when does a pub become a club?
Jonathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer merely made reference to Japan’s “Three Cs” – closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places with many people, and close-contact settings such as conversations. There’s a good piece on all that in the Atlantic here.
Although Scotland hasn’t yet flung open the clubs, Nicola Sturgeon refused to rule out going down a similar road later in the week – but as indicated above, gossip from a backbenchers meeting with the PM in Parliament suggests it might all be a bluff anyway to get vaccine take up among under 30s up.
You can see why – as of last Monday only 65% of under 30s had had Jab 1 or booked for it. So it’s possible that the bluff works and the whole thing is called off. It’s also however possible that the reverse happens – and a government that has now introduced the idea of strong-arming the young into getting the Jab might well go further with things like higher education enrolment.
In any case, JCVI is still saying that second doses should be eight weeks later. So it’s surely tempting for higher education providers to be thinking about pushing back the start of the academic year to no earlier than Monday Oct 4th. That would just about give home Freshers time to get double jabbed.
It is – by sheer coincidence – also just about enough time to mean minimal disruption for Oxford and Cambridge but quite a bit for Oxford Brookes and Anglia Ruskin.