Downing Street on Monday left open the prospect of requiring students to get jabbed to attend university lectures or live in halls of residence.
Asked whether compulsory jabs for access to university lectures in-person and halls of residence would happen, she initially told Sky News “no”, stressing the need to prioritise education.
But later she kept open the option, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Obviously, I can’t comment on things that haven’t been announced. But one does need to look at every practicality to make sure that we can get students back safely and make sure that we can continue to prioritise education.”
And she told Times Radio: “We don’t want to go back to a situation where large parts of education were closed to many young people and children, and a key part of doing that is having that double-vaccinated population.
“So I think we need to continue to encourage our young people to step forward, have the vaccination, and that is the way that they can have that freedom and confidence that they’ll be able to have that full university life.”
Asked about the proposal, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We are still looking at the scope for vaccine certification.”
The Department for Education is understood to have concerns over the practicalities and legality of such a jabs scheme for universities which is believed to be at an early stage of being examined.
Students are also expected to take up the vaccine in large numbers.
The Times reported that the Prime Minister made the suggestion, subject to medical exemptions, during a virtual meeting from his isolation at Chequers.
But Robert Halfon, Conservative MP and chairman of the Commons Education Committee, branded the move as “wrong-headed”.
He added: “It’s like something out of Huxley’s Brave New World where people with vaccine passports will be engineered into social hierarchies - ie those who will be given a higher education and those who do not.
“Where does this stop? Do we fire apprentices who have not had the vaccine? Do we remove older students from FE (further education) colleges? Do we close down adult education courses where adults have not had the vaccine? I hope not.”
The row comes after England manager Gareth Southgate was recruited to help push up vaccination rates among young people.
A Universities UK spokesperson said: “Universities are already encouraging students to get vaccinated and not delay, and will continue working with government and local public health teams to promote uptake over the summer through targeted communications, and by setting up temporary ‘pop-up’ clinics at convenient locations.”