US Business Schools Introduce Mandatory Vaccinations

The policies have divided students, faculty and staff

As the MBA admissions season gets underway, many prospective business school students will fret over their standardized test scores, recommendation letters, and other elements of the application process. A fresh consideration will be proof of full vaccination against Covid-19, at least in the US.

Dozens of business schools in America have started making full vaccination mandatory for students who want to study on campus this fall, as they ramp up in-person teaching after a long spell of online or mixed learning to help reduce infection levels.

Many students will feel more comfortable and safe coming back to campus knowing that their peers are immunized, but mandatory vaccination policies have enraged some students and faculty who believe compulsory jabs are unethical.

The issues may serve as a warning to academic institutions elsewhere in the world that are also ramping up the much valued in-person components of their MBA courses.

In the US, a large swath of the population is vaccinated but in other countries including the UK and much of mainland Europe similar policies have not been introduced.

The Fuqua School of Business in North Carolina is following Duke University’s policy requiring vaccinations for all students, faculty and staff unless an individual obtains a religious or medical exemption.

“With the science being clear on how each community member plays a role in protecting the full community, I feel it is completely ethical, if not a moral imperative, to require people who want to be members of our community to do their part in supporting the collective safety and security of the community,” says Russ Morgan, senior associate dean for full-time programs.

He goes as far as to say that “for those who don’t share this view or commitment, I would suggest we are not the right community for them”. Most of Fuqua’s MBA students have welcomed vaccinations, and many appreciated having access to the vaccine at Duke, he says. “We’ve had very few students who have expressed any concern or filed for religious or medical exemptions.”  

With that said, protests have erupted at many US university campuses such as Rutgers and Maryland, with students objecting against the decision to make vaccines mandatory. Underscoring the sensitivity of the issue, many business schools privately declined to comment for this article.

Often, the concerns raised by detractors have been around the impact on communities of colour, who are more hesitant towards jabs. This is not a concern that has been observed by Morgan at Fuqua, however. “We are exceptionally pleased to have welcomed our most diverse first-year MBA cohort in the school’s history this year,” he says.

“Incentives have played an important role in some populations but I have to admit that we never saw hesitancy in the student community,” he adds.

What’s the vaccination situation at schools outside the US?

Outside of the US, at business schools in mainland Europe and the UK, vaccination is generally not mandatory but students are being strongly encouraged to get immunised and many business schools have created pop-up vaccination sites on campuses. Strict coronavirus measures such as mask wearing and regular testing and physical distancing are typically in place, which has changed the face of business school life.

At HEC Paris business school in France, a vaccination center nearby is providing free vaccines to international students who have just arrived and do not yet have a French social security number.

For those who are unvaccinated, the school has set up a Covid test center on campus providing free PCR tests which are required to attend restaurants on campus, bars, indoor sports facilities and other social events.

“The health pass is not required to access classrooms, study rooms, offices or the main dining hall,” says Andrea Masini, associate dean of MBA programs. But he adds: “Students are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated so that they can enjoy the full MBA experience.”

It’s a similar story at IESE Business School in Madrid, Spain, which is strongly recommending that all participants and staff are fully vaccinated and provide proof of that with an official certificate. Those who are not will need to provide weekly proof of a negative test in order to access the campus, as well as complete a daily health questionnaire.

At the same time, all staff and students (whether vaccinated or not) also have agreed to adhere to health and safety measures including restricted campus access and temperature controls, mandatory mask use in all common spaces, among others.

“By putting in place a set of rigorous protocols that went above and beyond what was legally required at the start of the pandemic, we were able to open up our campus for in person teaching back in June 2020,” says Marta Escardo, IESE Business School’s MBA program director.

“Our MBA students have told us that they appreciated that effort and in turn understand the role they play in continuing to safeguard our campuses.”

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