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Weekly news roundup: US judge rules on university's mandatory Covid vaccines and New Zealand update universities on border restrictions

Lily Martin
Last Updated: 30 August 2021 • 3 min read

This week’s news comes from the US, UK and New Zealand with a landmark ruling in the United States Federal Court on mandatory Covid vaccines. 

In the UK, latest figures released by UCAS show international student application numbers are down and in New Zealand an update on border restrictions doesn’t seem to offer much change for students looking to enter the country for the new academic year in 2022.

Here’s your weekly higher education news roundup. 

US judge rules on university’s mandatory Covid vaccine mandate

A US federal judge has upheld a university’s requirement for mandatory Covid vaccinations for its on-campus students. This is the clearest and most prominent ruling on a deeply divisive issue.

Colleges and universities across the United States have been divided on requiring all students attending classes on-campus in the new semester to be fully vaccinated. The debate has become politically charged in recent weeks, making headlines across the world and causing widespread confusion.

Over 500 US colleges and universities have announced vaccination requirements for the autumn semester, despite such mandates being banned in many states.

US District Court Judge Damon Leichty ruled against a request from eight students to block the mandate at Indiana University, a public institution. He admitted his concern for individual rights but placed a higher priority on public safety.

Judge Leichty, a Trump administration appointee, ruled that the university acted in the best interests of its employees and students in issuing the mandate and that the students bringing the case did not demonstrate that they would suffer any irreparable harm.

The American Council on Education urged student vaccination but has acknowledged the extremely difficult circumstances that some institutions and their leaders face.

Judge Leichty in his ruling also refused to grant a temporary injunction blocking Indiana University from imposing its vaccine mandate pending a full trial.

The case sets an important precedent as other institutions are taken to court in relation to mandatory vaccine mandates. Most existing vaccine requirements in the US allow exemptions for people under religious-based objections or underlying medical conditions.

New Zealand keeps borders closed to international students

New Zealand’s Minister of Education has confirmed that there will be no major amendments to plans in allowing international students to re-enter the country.

The clarification, given at the annual International Education Forum in Auckland earlier this month, means that international student numbers will be severely reduced for the upcoming academic year.

New Zealand’s borders are currently closed, with the exception of citizens, permanent residents, and those able to enter the country through an alternative border exemption. Immigration New Zealand is not currently processing offshore visa applications until February 2022 at the earliest.

Earlier this year, the New Zealand government passed an exception for 1,000 international tertiary students. However it is now thought that there will be no further exceptions prior to the new academic year.

“Our top priority continues to be the health, safety and wellbeing of all people in New Zealand,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins said.

A large proportion of international students are therefore going to be unable to enter the country prior to the new term beginning in February 2022. 

However, a number of New Zealand universities are offering online teaching and distance learning until international students can join face-to-face classes when the country’s borders re-open.

UK applications for international students drop

UK universities have seen an increase in applications and offers compared to 2020, but applications for international students looking to study in the UK have declined, according to latest data from UCAS.

Despite an overall increase in applications, the number of international students decreased from 138,770 in 2020 to 130,390 in 2021. This has been attributed to a strong decrease in students from the EU.

Applications for students from outside the EU to study in the UK increased.

“Today’s numbers show the clear demand for undergraduate study is growing,” said UCAS Chief Executive Clare Marchant.

“Universities are ready to welcome more students onto courses this autumn and have worked hard to be flexible, enabling students to progress to their next level of study.”

The data shows that EU student applications have dropped substantially, from 50,650 in 2019 to 49,650 in 2020 and 28,400 in 2021.

The release of this data comes at a time when UK universities are beginning to return to normal teaching after the Covid-19 pandemic. On July 19, national restrictions in the UK were eased further, allowing students to return to face-to-face teaching ready for the start of the academic year in September. 

Many universities however have decided to adopt a blended learning approach for the foreseeable future.

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Lily Martin
Written By
Lily Martin

Lily is a Content Writer and Editor based in Manchester, UK. She is passionate about travel, literature and higher education.

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