About 40 universities around the UK have had reports of coronavirus cases and thousands of students are self-isolating as the new term begins.
The University of Aberystwyth is the latest to suspend face-to-face teaching because of Covid-19. But the prime minister’s spokesman said students would be able to go home for the Christmas break.
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon said ensuring students could go home at Christmas would be a priority.
On whether students in England should receive a fees refund, the prime minister’s spokesman said universities were autonomous and would make their own decisions.
But the Office for Students, the watchdog for higher education in England, indicated that universities would have to seriously consider requests for a partial refund and must not “adopt a blanket policy that refunds are not available”.
Manchester Metropolitan University has offered a two-week rent rebate and £50 supermarket voucher for students in two halls of residence affected by outbreaks.
Some students have questioned why they were told to leave home and pay for accommodation when most teaching is being done remotely. There has also been uncertainty about when students can visit their homes.
Labour says pausing the return of universities should be considered, rather than risk further Covid outbreaks and self-isolation for students.
There are no official figures on university Covid outbreaks from the government, the Office for Students or Universities UK – but a tracking of local reports suggests more than 40 universities have had Covid cases so far, out of about 130 in total.
In the absence of official information, websites such as Unicovid, run by academics, have gathered data.
In Wales, the University of Aberystwyth said that from Monday in-person teaching would be temporarily suspended and courses would be taught online.
At Manchester Metropolitan University, all classes for first year and foundation year students will be online for the next 14 days. About 1,700 students have been told to isolate for a fortnight after 127 tested positive for the virus.
At the University of Essex a cluster of cases has been linked to sports teams.
At Glasgow University – 600 students were told to self-isolate after 172 tested positive. While at Queen’s University Belfast – 100 students have been told to self-isolate after 30 positive cases.
Many universities had promised students a mix of in-person and online teaching.
But with more switching to online there have been questions about students getting a refund or if they should be paying for university accommodation if lessons are delivered remotely.