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Can Higher Education Institutions Make Coronavirus Testing Mandatory?

on Wednesday, 19 May 2021.

With the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions across the UK, many students have or will be returning to university campuses, with COVID-19 testing likely to form an integral part of university procedures.

As HEIs will be aware, the Government amended its COVID-19 operational guidance on 10 May 2021. Within the update, the guidance provides various references to testing procedures, including:

  • Acknowledgment of the importance of regular asymptomatic testing, with the Government working with HEIs to offer twice-weekly asymptomatic testing to all students.
  • Domestic students should be encouraged to test before they travel back to university, with additional reference to testing requirements for international students upon arrival.
  • On arrival at university, students should take three tests at an on-site testing facility (each test three to four days apart).
  • Following initial tests, students and staff should test twice a week.
  • Students and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 90 days are likely to have developed some immunity.
  • Where students have a medical reason that prevents them engaging in testing, they should discuss alternatives with the HEI.
  • A reminder regarding HEIs' obligations to assess risks and adhere to guidance on working safely.

Advice provided to students via the Office for Students replicates this guidance.

Coronavirus HE blogs

Can HEIs Adopt a Mandatory Testing Policy?

The guidance is clear that students should be 'strongly encouraged' to test but stops short of making testing mandatory. Whilst the guidance is non-statutory guidance, it makes it more difficult for HEIs to enforce a mandatory testing system unless it can be justified.

HEIs have broad health and safety obligations to ensure the safety of their students, staff and visitors so far as they are able to do so. A decision to implement mandatory testing should be considered in line with current Government guidance and the HEI's health and safety policies and COVID-19 risk assessment, with a focus on necessity, proportionality and reasonableness.

An opportunity to regularly test should form part of a range of control measures implemented to protect students, staff and visitors.

Prior to implementing mandatory testing, HEIs should consider the use of all COVID-19 secure control measures, with implementation of mandatory testing only where risks of transmission cannot be adequately controlled. The demographic profile of the HEI student body, size and type, logistical challenges and specific concerns (eg a higher risk of a variant of concern) may be used to justify mandatory testing and it is open to HEIs to "make your own judgements about your provision, while following the latest public health guidance."

Any decisions taken to require mandatory testing should be clearly recorded in writing and communicated with the wider student body wherever possible. Engagement with students unions may be effective in managing student's concerns. Should HEIs have any concerns, we strongly advise working alongside their local authority or Public Health England.

For further information on COVID-19 testing please contact Natalie Wargent in our Higher Education team on 07468 698955, or complete the form below.

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