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Students forced to self-isolate should have their fees waived, says top scientist

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Students forced into lockdown in their halls should have their fees waived – rather than face fines for partying, a top scientist has said.

Professor Carl Heneghan, of Oxford University, warned ministers they risked alienating young people who had been told to return to campus for the start of term.

Thousands of students are currently self-isolating their halls following coronavirus outbreaks at universities, including Glasgow, Manchester Metropolitan and Edinburgh Napier.

Locked down students have resorted to writing pleas for food and drinks on their windows as they are banned from leaving their accomodation.

Prof Heneghan told the Sunday Times: “We should waive student fees.

“We have asked people to go back to university, and at the first sign cases are going up, we are clamping down on people.”

His concerns were echoed by senior Tory MP Robert Halfon, who said universities would have to offer discounts to those missing out on learning – despite paying £9,250 in tuition fees per year.

Mr Halfon, who chairs the Commons Education Committee, told the Sunday Telegraph: “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 comes amid a furious row over whether students should be allowed to go home for Christmas amid fears many would be forced to self isolate in their halls.

Labour has written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to demand students can get tested to allow them to spend the festive period with their families.

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said the Government had let young people down.

She said: “It is unthinkable that students will be locked in their rooms and unable to return home to spend Christmas with their families.

“The Government must promise that this will not happen, and work with universities to enable every student to access tests so that they can travel home safely.”

Ms Green also suggested delaying the start of the university term to allow improvements in testing capacity and remote learning.

But Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden stopped short of promising students could go home – saying they had to follow the rules.

He told Sky News: “I very much want students to be able to go home at Christmas, and if we all pull together and observe these new rules, we follow the guidance, then we will be able to get to a point where that should be possible.”

Tory co-chairman Amanda Milling accused Labour of “creating unnecessary stress for young people to score political points” and said there were no plans to confine students to their halls over Christmas.

But shadow public health minister Alex Norris hit back, saying the Government was “yet again sowing the seeds of chaos and incompetence – denying plans to keep students at university over Christmas at the same time the Culture Secretary was refusing to rule it out”.

The chaos comes after Government scientists warned that universities could face mini ‘lockdowns’ as coronavirus  could spread among students like ‘fresher’s flu.

Documents from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) published earlier this month show experts were deeply concerned about how the virus would spread in student halls and into the wider community.

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