COVID-19: Ethical framework for asymptomatic testing of students in higher education institutions


Mass asymptomatic testing is happening across the UK. As part of their efforts to reduce risk, some higher education institutions are using or considering it for their students.

The University of Cambridge introduced an asymptomatic testing programme for students living in college accommodation in October 2020. Enabled by THIS Institute’s research platform, Thiscovery, we aimed to identify influences on participation, barriers or concerns about the programme, and views on ethical considerations.

The project used the findings of the consultation, alongside further literature review and expert ethical and legal analysis, to produce an ethical framework with practical recommendations, and hypothetical illustrative examples to demonstrate how they might be put into practice.

The areas of ethical consideration are:

  1. Design and operation of the programme
  2. Goals of the programme
  3. Properties of the test(s) selected for the programme
  4. Enabling isolation
  5. Choices regarding participation in the programme
  6. Benefits, harms and opportunity costs
  7. Responsibilities between students and institutions
  8. Privacy, confidentiality and data-sharing
  9. Communication

Read the framework

Use the checklist

Download infographic

We’ll soon be publishing more details about the methods and results of the consultation, and the ethical and legal analysis underpinning the framework.

At a glance

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