Editorial Team

As many countries have rolled out aggressive vaccination policies for their citizens, the COVID-19 vaccine is poised to help facilitate the return of international students aiming to start or resume in-person studies. According to a recent study by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), the UK is becoming more attractive as a destination for prospective students as a result of how they have handled the distribution of the vaccine, with 11 percent of respondents highlighting its effectiveness. 

Vaccine Passports: A Welcome Move?

In another poll by QS dated August 2021 among 3,853 prospective international students, 84 percent of respondents said they would receive the vaccination if offered to them. Most students surveyed (70 percent) also felt that vaccinations should be a requirement before students travel to the country of their chosen institution. 

Currently, there are no plans to bring in vaccine passports for university students in Britain. However, varsities are “encouraged to promote the vaccine offer and should continue to conduct risk assessments for their particular circumstances,” per the Department for Education.

International higher education experts say the success of the UK vaccine programme has meant that all adults over 18, including international students, are eligible to be vaccinated in the UK. According to Yvonne Simpson, Assistant Secretary, External Liaison and Student Services at Queen Margaret University, UK, the country is well advanced in the supply of vaccinations to a significant percentage of the adult population. “It is extremely welcome and positive that this is extended to all international students choosing to study in the UK,” says Simpson.

Vaccinations are allowing countries to start to reopen and return to a new sense of normality. Tim Steele, Pro Vice Chancellor, Global Opportunities at the University of Wolverhampton, believes the approach by the UK government has been one to support its international students.  “The ability for all international students to be vaccinated when they arrive in the UK is a further commitment ensuring universities can support everyone in our academic community,” he says.  

Challenges for the Non-Vaccinated 

It is not currently a requirement that an international student is vaccinated in order to study in the UK, although students are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated before they arrive. Students arriving in the UK are subject to current testing and quarantine rules. There are fewer restrictions for those arriving from amber list countries who are fully vaccinated with a recognised vaccine. 

“‘There are currently different requirements for testing and self-isolation for students arriving to the UK from amber list countries depending on whether the student has been fully vaccinated with a recognised vaccine. The regulations around this are complex and prone to sudden change,” says Simpson, who is also a member of the new UK and Europe Advisory Board at international education platform M Square Media (MSM), bringing together a wealth of experience in higher education and international student recruitment to advise the business and its partner institutions and agents in the industry. 

All universities face the challenge of encouraging academic communities to maintaining the established practices of  social distancing as the UK starts to open up and the return of face to face teaching starts, being mindful that not all students and staff will be fully vaccinated for various reasons, adds Steele, who is a committee chair and member at various organisations such as Universities UK International. Students are advised to check if a vaccine is recognised by the UK and EU before proceeding with their travel plans.

Mandatory Vaccines for Foreign Students?

Another important question is whether vaccines be made mandatory for students coming to the UK, particularly amid concerns of new virus variants. Universities, however, likely believe that forcing students to prove their vaccination status to attend lectures or live on campus would be effectively unworkable. “We are working closely with our NHS partners to set up a drop-in vaccination clinic on campus at the start of semester which students can access. We are also arranging easy access to testing on campus. That way we work to make the campus as safe as possible for everyone,” explains Simpson.

Besides providing all international students an opportunity to access a vaccine on arrival, the country is encouraging students to take up vaccines in their home country prior to traveling. However, experts believe it is not the role of universities to police who has had their vaccines. “We do have a role to help provide the appropriate information, guidance and access to vaccines to our academic communities,” says Steele. 

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