A sign about student fees is displayed in the window of a student accommodation

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All first year and foundation students at Manchester Metropolitan University will be taught online for the next two weeks to curb the spread of Covid-19.

They are among thousands of students who have been told to self-isolate at universities in the UK amid outbreaks.

Some have questioned why they were told to leave home when most teaching is being done remotely.

Ministers said universities were working hard to be able to resume some face-to-face learning.

Health minister Helen Whately told BBC Breakfast “it must be really tough” for students having to self-isolate at universities, but the government wanted outbreaks “under control”.

She said universities were “working very hard to achieve that” so students could go “back to combination” of online and face-to-face learning and socially distanced socialising.

On whether students could return home for Christmas at the end of term, she said talk about this was “some time off”, she said, adding: “It’s down to all of us to get this under control so can spend Christmas with our families.”

Labour has called on the government to consider pausing the return after Covid outbreaks meant thousands of students had to isolate in their accommodation.

Meanwhile, students at Queen’s University halls of residence in Belfast have been told to self-isolate after a “small number” tested positive for Covid-19.

‘Legal rights’

Nicola Dandridge, of the Office for Students, said students “have legal rights” but tuition fee refunds are “a question for the government”.

“It’s very early days,” she told BBC Radio 4 Today.

“If students feel they are not getting what was offered to them then they absolutely should raise that with their university and they also have the right to complain to the university ombudsman.”

Joe Ward is a student at Manchester Metropolitan University – where about 1,700 students have been told to isolate for a fortnight after 127 tested positive for the virus.

Students there have said they were being prevented from leaving their accommodation by security guards and police.

“If I was made aware that this is how things would be and things would only be online then I definitely would have reconsidered going to university this year,” Joe, who shares a flat with seven others, told BBC News.

“I would definitely like to think that there might be some sort of compensation, but at the same time I understand that for the university it is also quite difficult for them, it is all very new for them as well.

“It’s difficult for both parties but we would definitely appreciate a bit more communication, which is starting to come through now but it’s still early days.”

His flatmate Natasha Kutscheruk said the initial lockdown “caused a lot of panic”, saying the university “should have been prepared and organised before sending out an email saying we are locked down”.

Larissa Kennedy, president of the National Union of Students, has said the union had “long called for online learning to be the default”.

“If [students’] quality of learning is severely impacted then we also need to see tuition fees reimbursed,” she said.

In Scotland there are outbreaks at the University of Glasgow, where 600 students have been isolating, as well as at universities in Dundee, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Coronavirus restrictions in Scotland currently ban people from visiting other households in their home – meaning students cannot return home to another address in Scotland from university accommodation for a short stay without a reasonable excuse, such as a family emergency.

However, new guidance issued by the Scottish government clarifies that students can return home on a long-term basis.

Students who have been told to self-isolate can return home if they need support to do so, including physical, financial or mental health support.

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