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It’s time to mandate vaccinations for international education


International education is among the worst hit sectors by the pandemic. The possibly worst combination of global travel, education, and the belief that the experience is non-essential, has decimated everyone in the field, from provider organisations, university study abroad and international offices, partner universities abroad, student housing and the many international education associations we all belong to.

“We have already lost many talented people from our field that may never return”

Many organisations are fighting for their survival, and we have already lost many talented people from our field that may never return.

It is therefore time for us all to band together and make a joint commitment to require the vaccination for program participation from fall 2021 onwards.

The reasons are many:

  1. Ending the pandemic requires a critical mass of people around the world be vaccinated.
  2. Our ability to return to international education in a significant way requires an end to the pandemic.
  3. It is the opinion of the WHO, CDC and the world’s experts that the vaccine is safe for all and should be taken by all, unless you are in an exceedingly rare immune compromised group.
  4. The US has opened vaccines to all over 16, and between now and fall, if we were to mandate, there are few obstacles for our participants finding a vaccine opportunity.
  5. Airlines, other countries, overseas universities and tourism systems are increasingly having a track or requirement for vaccinated travellers, and two sets of rules apply. For example, an incoming international student into Ireland who is vaccinated does not need to quarantine, but an unvaccinated one must quarantine for 12 days in a hotel at their own expense.
  6. Operating any international programs with a mix of vaccinations states would require two different safety protocols, housing and social format. We cannot ask vaccinated participants to share a bedroom, apartment, social event with a group of unvaccinated students.
  7. There are significant safety risks for our overseas staff in locations where the vaccination process is slower being asked to welcome and support unvaccinated students.
  8. Can we morally send unvaccinated students into another country with lower vaccination rates and put the local population at risk?
  9. We have a fantastic opportunity to encourage young people to join this global public health initiative. Their willingness to be vaccinated helps to ensure the safety of those more vulnerable, and the incentive we offer is to allow them to travel abroad on international programs.
  10. We are university level educators, and we have a duty to stand for science. To allow for exceptions for anything other than legitimate medical reasons would be building our policy to meet the lowest not the highest common denominator in our society.

Like many in the field, we at AIFS Abroad have spent the last several weeks and months debating this important decision. We have talked with colleagues around the world, to lawyers, insurance partners, we have watched the news and read the tea leaves.

“It is tempting to wait, watch and follow, but the time is now to act, and move together”

It is tempting to wait, watch and follow, but the time is now to act, and move together to take a position so others can as well, so we can get our students back abroad as soon as possible. Starting in Fall 2021 all AIFS Abroad participants will be required to be fully vaccinated. I challenge other international education providers to do the same. We are stronger together.

About the author:

Emily Merson Executive Director at AIFS Abroad.  In 2001, she co-founded International Internship organisation Global Experiences, serving as CEO from 2013 to 2020. The company joined the AIFS family in 2019.



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