Before I get started, let me say this: I don’t think vaccine passports are in any way a good idea. I hate the way they’ve been debated with all the seriousness of a local council deciding when to schedule a Zoom meeting. And even if the Government is just using them as a threat to get young people jabbed, it is not a very nice threat.
Even so, it was rather astonishing to see universities and unions kick off at reports the Government wants students to be double jabbed – as a condition to attend lectures and stay in halls. Vice-chancellors suddenly discovered their libertarian streak and warned that this would be a “terrible infringement on personal freedom.” Never mind the “infringement on personal freedom” that took place last year when students were locked down in their halls…
Worse was the response of Jo Grady, General Secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), who said: “Sadly, this looks and smells like a Prime Minister trying to pin the blame on students for not yet taking up a vaccine they haven’t been prioritised to receive.” The only thing that smells, though, is the rank hypocrisy of unions, which have constantly advocated for tough measures – only to whinge when they get their way.
After all, was it not the UCU which, five days earlier, wrote to Gavin Williamson to demand that all students should be double vaccinated before the start of their term in September? And wasn’t it the UCU that warned that universities should also “provide and mandate” the wearing of face masks, along with the rest of its long list of things the Government should do? If young people prove hesitant about getting the jab, how does the UCU think ministers – trying to meet its inexhaustible demands – should act?
The Government is clearly trying to gather momentum – so that students can be back on campus in September, hence why it has become so stern about the plan. It is even said that Boris Johnson was impressed by the way Emmanuel Macron increased vaccine uptake about the young in France, by threatening a “health pass” for restaurants, bars, trains and planes, and has thus taken inspiration.
Someone more cynical might question whether universities even want to see students in person again. Earlier this month, it was interesting to note Russell Group Universities announce they were moving to a “blended” model of education. This will involve face-to-face teaching and virtual learning for the price of £9,250 a year. One wonders if the Government’s push for vaccines is rather throwing a spanner in the “blended” plan…
Either way, it is extraordinary that universities and unions, which have been some of the most zealous about Covid safety measures, kick off at the Government for caution of all matters, with the UCU calling the situation “appalling”. They make Keir Starmer look decisive in his Covid plans.