Labour on sunday called for a halt to students going to universities following a series of coronavirus outbreaks on campuses across the uk that has forced thousands of people into self-isolation.
Although many students have yet to start the university term, some are already living under tight restrictions after outbreaks of covid-19 forced residents of large accommodation blocks to isolate.
Coronavirus cases at universities in glasgow and dundee have confined an estimated 1,100 students to halls of residence. meanwhile 1,700 students at manchester metropolitan university have been told not to leave their accommodation for 14 days.
Kate green, shadow education secretary, said the start of the university autumn term should be delayed until an effective testing system could be shown to be working.
We do think it is important that students have a choice, she told the bbc. if they feel they are going to be safer at home then they should be able to stay at home and conduct their learning remotely.
In a letter to education secretary gavin williamson, ms green also said it would be unthinkable that students could not return home to visit their families at christmas.
But culture secretary oliver dowden said students would only be able to return home later this year if social restrictions to thwart the spread of coronavirus were followed.
I very much want students to be able to go home at christmas and if we all pull together and observe these new rules, follow the guidance, then we will be able to get to a point where that should be possible, he added.
Larissa kennedy, president of the national union of students, described the situation as chaotic and distressing for students, who in some instances have reported problems securing food while being required to stay in their halls.
With further upheaval inevitable, the nus said it was crucial universities show flexibility.
Students who wish to return home should be free to break accommodation contracts, said the nus, adding tuition fees should be reimbursed if education was severely impacted.
To be trapped in their accommodation without the opportunity to return to their families if they wish will only add anxiety to an already difficult situation, said ms kennedy.
In a notice on its website on saturday, manchester metropolitan university said students could not leave their accommodation to be tested for coronavirus.
It added it was working with the local health services to put another testing system in place and with local authorities and supermarkets to facilitate food deliveries to students.
Scottish universities told students on thursday not to visit pubs, cafs or restaurants or socialise outside their households over the weekend as part of a series of measures to try to curb covid-19.
Glasgow university on saturday said it would refund residents of its accommodation one months rent and give them a 50 food payment.
Nicola sturgeon, scotlands first minister, said the university clusters in glasgow and dundee accounted for part of the 714 new cases of coronavirus reported on saturday, the countrys highest daily tally of the pandemic.