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