Students could be required to be double-jabbed in order to attend university lectures in person and live in halls of residence, the government has signalled.
Boris Johnson, who is reportedly “raging” at the low levels of vaccine uptake among the under-30s, is said to have floated the university plan in private meetings last week.
When asked about the Times’ report, children’s minister Vicky Ford repeatedly refused to rule out the idea of making access to key student facilities conditional on a full vaccination record.
And the prime minister’s official spokesperson added: “We obviously reserve the right to protect the public, and reduce transmission....We are still looking at the scope for vaccination certifications.”
Ford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “So obviously, I can’t comment on things that haven’t been announced.
“But one does need to look at every practicality to make sure that we can get students back safely and make sure that we can continue to prioritise education.”
She then told Times Radio: “We don’t want to go back to a situation where large parts of education were closed to many young people and children, and a key part of doing that is having that double-vaccinated population.
“So I think we need to continue to encourage our young people to step forward, have the vaccination, and that is the way that they can have that freedom and confidence that they’ll be able to have that full university life.”
Students have protested throughout the pandemic that they are being forced to pay tuition fees in return for online lectures, disrupted stays in accommodation and drastically reduced social contact.
HuffPost UK understands that ministers have become alarmed in recent weeks at the levelling off of vaccine uptake among younger people. Although over-50s have take up rates of more than 80%, in the under-30 age group the rates are between 55% to 63%.
Johnson announced last week a plan to make full vaccination a requirement for entry to nightclubs from the end of September, a timetable that also appears aimed at universities’ “freshers weeks”, when students socialise.
The Times reported that the prime minister made the university suggestion, subject to medical exemptions, during a virtual meeting from his isolation at Chequers.
But Robert Halfon, Conservative MP and chairman of the education select committee, told the newspaper: “This is wrong-headed.
“It’s like something out of Huxley’s Brave New World where people with vaccine passports will be engineered into social hierarchies — ie those who will be given a higher education and those who do not.
“Where does this stop? Do we fire apprentices who have not had the vaccine? Do we remove older students from FE (further education) colleges? Do we close down adult education courses where adults have not had the vaccine? I hope not.”
It comes after England manager Gareth Southgate was recruited to help push up vaccination rates among young people.