The government should promise university students that they will be allowed to return home for Christmas, Labour has said.
Shadow education secretary Kate Green said it was “unthinkable” that students could continue to be locked in halls and unable to see their families.
Thousands of students are currently in lockdown at universities across the UK after coronavirus outbreaks.
The Department for Education said it was working closely with universities.
Earlier this week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to rule out a ban on students returning home at Christmas, but added: “I don’t want to have a situation like that and I very much hope we can avoid it.”
He was responding to a question about concerns that students were spreading Covid-19, following local outbreaks on campuses.
About 3,000 students are currently in lockdown at universities from Dundee to Exeter, the Conservative chairman of the Commons education select committee Robert Halfon has said.
They include up to 1,700 students at Manchester Metropolitan University – where students say they are being prevented from leaving by security guards and police.
Many students have expressed worry and confusion about the situation, with one saying they had “been left completely in the dark”.
In a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, Labour’s Ms Green accused the government of failing to prepare for the likelihood that the virus could spread among students.
“It is deeply distressing that so many will now not get the university experience they deserve, and face the appalling prospect of being locked in their rooms with no chance to make new friends,” she said.
“Universities have done all they can to prepare for students’ safe return to campus, but the government has failed to play its part.
“You let young people down with the exam fiasco over the summer, and now many of those same students are being let down again. These young people deserve better than your incompetence.”
She called for:
- Enough testing capacity in universities
- All students to be given the choice to study remotely
- The government to consider delaying the start of term for universities that are yet to return
And regarding Christmas, she added the government must “work with universities to ensure every student has access to testing to allow a safe journey home”.
Earlier this week, government scientific adviser Sir Mark Walport warned that students in virus hotspots might have to be forced to stay on campus over Christmas.