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Stakeholders call for clear comms on US uni vaccine requirements

International students coming to the US for the fall semester are facing confusion around vaccine requirements, with stakeholders saying that adequate communication must be put in place – rules vary according to institution and region. 

International students coming to the US for the Fall semester are facing confusion around vaccine requirements. Photo: Pexels

"A database has shown that more than 500 US colleges and universities will require students to get a coronavirus vaccine"

A database from The Chronicle of Higher Education has shown that more than 500 US colleges and universities will require students to get a coronavirus vaccine before the start of the fall term.

“Theoretically every university, depending on the politics of the local region, can have a different policy”

However the picture is complex and institutions have a variety of requirements that can be dependent on specific state legislation. 

Founder of North American Association of Indian Students Sudhanshu Kaushik told The PIE News that the differing requirements are causing confusion amongst students. 

“I think the issue here is twofold. One is the lack of centralised places that students can get access to information,” Kaushik said. 

“There are over 500 universities and theoretically every university, depending on the politics of the local region, can have a different policy, plus different standards on the vaccinations right through it.” 

Kaushik explained that the Indian students who NAAIS represent are spread out across the US at top institutions, Ivy League institutions and community colleges. 

“What’s happening is that there’s so much different information that they’re hearing… It adds to a whole other level of confusion. 

Kaushik called for a centralised method of communication or the adoption of centralised policy to better help students understand and prepare for the requirements. 

“I have seen some institutions say they will accept any approved vaccine (US or WHO approved), and others have said students with a non-US approved vaccine would need to quarantine”

Sarah Spreitzer, director, government relations at the American Council on Education said that US institutions are working to remain flexible and supportive, especially if they have a vaccine requirement in place. 

She explained, “I have seen some institutions say they will accept any approved vaccine (US or WHO approved), and others have said students with a non-US approved vaccine would need to quarantine for a period of time before fully joining the campus and classes,” she said. 

“For those students not yet vaccinated, institutions will work to make sure they have the opportunity to get the vaccine after they arrive in the US. 

“So I think it is dependent on the institution. For example, some public institutions are in states where the state legislature has told them they can’t mandate the vaccine, for example in Arizona.”

However, Spreitzer noted that in those states, private institutions are able to mandate the vaccine. “So I think flexibility, and early communication on the requirements, are going to be key for the institutions and the students”.

“Colleges are the first to really appeal to them for the value that they bring”

NAAIS’ Kaushik argued that some of the policies put in place around vaccines show a lack of empathy to international students. 

“I think that with the policies that have been put in place, it really showcases the lack of empathy and context to people understanding what’s happening around the world, especially in developing countries,” he said. 

“Colleges are the first to really appeal to them for the value that they bring, the tuition money that they spend. But it really showcases a lack of understanding from the policies that they’ve put in place in our case in India.” 

Kaushik said that he understood the health connotations and risks but argued that if institutions are “quick to take money” from international students then they have a responsibility to them. 

“There’s a lack of a proper policy in place. Institutions had over a year and a half to prepare for this,” he added.

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