A senior Conservative figure has called for students locked down or forced to self-isolate because of Covid-19 outbreaks to receive refunds on their university fees.
Thousands more students will need to be subjected to lockdowns and self-isolation to protect the wider population from Covid-19 outbreaks, disease control experts have warned.
It comes as further student accommodation blocks were locked down and universities warned that they would expel those who did not follow coronavirus restrictions.
As many as 3,000 students across seven British universities have already been confined to their flats after coronavirus outbreaks.
Now calls are growing for the Government and university regulators to step in to deal with the crisis.
Robert Halfon, Conservative chairman of the Commons education committee, said: "The Office for Students and universities is going to have to look at offering discounts for loss of learning for those isolating or in lockdowns.
"The Government could say that they believe discounts should be offered. If you buy a product and you only get half of it or a quarter of it, you are entitled to get your money back.
“Secondly, there needs to be a plan B on how we are going to keep students learning.
"It needs to be absolutely clear that you cannot have a situation in which students are in lockdown with families at home not knowing what is going on and having to deliver food provisions. This has got to be sorted out."
Lecturers' unions have called the increasingly fraught situation a “predictable crisis”, saying proper planning should have been put in place before students were told to return.
Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: "We warned that without a UK-wide track and trace system, regular testing of students and staff, or a series of mitigations that went beyond current government guidelines, universities would become incubators of Covid-19 and university communities would become transmission hotspots.
“There is no point encouraging students to come to university to self-isolate for a fortnight, and doing so now looks even more like a cynical effort to extract accommodation fees and then worry about what to do.
"We cannot have students forced to quarantine in halls of residence with no familiar support network, or staff forced to carry out work on site that could be conducted more safely from home.”
A string of student blocks in Manchester were locked down on Friday night after 127 Covid-19 cases were recorded. On the same night police broke up a number of parties at the University of Edinburgh’s main halls of residence, which houses 1,900 students.
Students in one of the blocks had been in lockdown following a confirmed case.
Around 500 are locked down at Abertay and Dundee University due to a "small number" of Covid-19 cases, a further 72 people at Aberdeen University, and at least 11 students are now self-isolating after two students tested positive at the University of Kent's Canterbury campus.
One Edinburgh first-year student at Pollock Halls said: “There's always police here now. It feels like we're being watched 24-7, which is a bit scary.”
Another first year said dozens of students were going home rather than self-isolating in the halls, adding: “There's just no point in being at uni and we're paying through the roof as well."
Despite term having only just begun at a number of institutions, hundreds of students have already been suspended or issued with disciplinary notices after breaching social distancing rules.
However, epidemiologists and health experts warned that more may have to self-isolate and more accommodation blocks may need to be locked down to prevent the spread of the virus to the wider public.
Dr Jonathan Fluxman, a GP and member of the Doctors In Unite campaign group, told The Telegraph: “Having told students to go back to university we now have to put measures in place to isolate them or the virus will run rampant among the wider population (see chart below).
"Lots of universities are in areas where Covid-19 rates are already ramping up, so universities have little choice but to introduce lockdowns and self-isolation.
“The problem is the Government’s strategy is once again confused and has landed a huge problem in the lap of universities and vice-chancellors, who simply don't have the experience needed to make their buildings Covid secure.”
Graham Medley, Prof of Infectious Disease Modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said: “Unfortunately, the virus is very good at transmitting and it gets out of individual groups, and so having a high prevalence of infection in one group inevitably will lead to infection in other groups.
"I think public health controls of trying to reduce those epidemics and outbreaks in students is a good thing because that will prevent other people from becoming infected."
Glasgow University said on Saturday that all students in university accommodation, where 600 are self-isolating, would receive a one-month rent refund, £50 for food and supplies and additional drop-ins by support staff.
The university will also increase numbers of food parcels being delivered to those who are self-isolating.
It comes as 14 out of the 24 leading Russell Group universities in the UK confirmed that rule-breaking students will be expelled in the most serious cases.
Several have also made their students sign up to coronavirus-specific codes of conduct, many of which demand that face coverings are worn in university buildings.
A Department for Education spokesperson said the Government is working closely with universities to ensure they are well prepared for the return of students, adding: “Students should follow the latest health advice, just like the wider public, which means they should stay at university in the event that they have symptoms, have to isolate, there are additional restrictions imposed locally, or there is an outbreak on campus or in their accommodation.”