has dodged demands that he intervene to force universities to refund students who will see their teaching disrupted because of .

Asked about refunds during a press conference on planned reforms to post-18 education and life-long learning, Mr Johnson said: “That is really a matter for them and their places of education.

“I hope that they can continue to get value in the courses they are given.”

The demands come as thousands of students self-isolate following a surge in cases at universities including Glasgow, Manchester Metropolitan and Edinburgh Napier.

More than two million students are starting the university year, with many travelling across the UK to live with new people.

But coronavirus quarantines mean thousands have already had to self-isolate – leaving them unable to attend lectures or socialise.

Across the country, students have begun to demand refunds as in-person teaching is suspended, with some in quarantine sticking signs to their windows.

They’ve been backed by Robert Halfon, Conservative chairman of the Commons education committee.

He said aid: “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.

Boris Johnson refuses to act on demands for fee refunds and says it up to unis
Messages are posted in the windows at Manchester Metropolitan University halls
(Image: Adam Vaughan/REX/Shutterstock)

“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.”

Yesterday Downing St said it would not intervene in the debate but would act if universities were not providing value for money.

It came after a lecturers union wrote to the PM to ask that online lessons “become the norm”, amid concern over the impact of lockdowns on students.

In a letter to Mr Johnson, the University and College Union (UCU), accused some institutions of adopting a “stubborn position” over requiring in-person teaching because they depended on rent from student accommodation.

Boris Johnson refuses to act on demands for fee refunds and says it up to unis
Mr Johnson was speaking in Exeter

In her letter to Mr Johnson, Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, said the union which represents academics and university staff was “not prepared to take chances with the health of students, our members and the communities they serve”.

“It is clear that remote learning should be the default for campus life while we are in this precarious position with the virus,” she said.

Alongside these issues, ministers are  under pressure to guarantee young people are not confined to their halls of residence over the Christmas period because of outbreaks on campuses.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Monday that all students were expected to be able to go home at Christmas, while noting they were subject to the same rules as the wider population in the areas where they live.

Mr Johnson made the comments as he promised free college courses to thousands of adults without an A-level equivalent qualification in England.

Currently these courses are free up to the age of 23.

From April, older adults without an A-Level or equivalent qualification will be offered a free, fully-funded college course in England – and can study at a time and location that suits them.

However it will only be available for courses “which are shown to be valued by employers”. A full list of available courses under the new offer is due next month.

Higher education loans will also be made more flexible, allowing adults and young people to space out study across their lifetime. There will also be more apprenticeships, especially in technical areas.

The PM said: “We’ve got to end the pointless, nonsensical gulf that has been fixed for generations – more than 100 years – between the so-called academic and the so-called practical varieties of education.

“It’s absurd to talk about skills in this limited way.

“Everything is ultimately a skill – a way of doing something faster, better, more efficiently, more accurately, more confidently, whether it is carving, or painting, or brick laying, or writing, or drawing, or mathematics, Greek philosophy; every single study can be improved not just by practice but by teaching. So now is the time to end this bogus distinction between FE and HE.”

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