Some students have been warned they could face fines of £800 for breaking rules on social distancing and others have been threatened with the boot if they fail to follow strict guidelines laid down by their universities.
More than 500 cases of COVID-19 cases have been confirmed across at least 32 universities and 4,000 students have been told to self-isolate for 14 days.
Glasgow University, where 172 cases have been confirmed, has announced it will give all 2,800 students in its halls of residence a month’s free rent plus £50.
The undergraduates, who are paying £9,250 in tuition fees for online learning, had threatened a rent strike and students’ leaders have asked for them to be released from their contracts and allowed to go home.
Liverpool, Exeter, St Andrews, Edinburgh, Warwick and Manchester Met have all seen outbreaks.
Oxford professor Carl Heneghan said students deserved to be treated better.
He said the Government had helped every sector, including pubs, but had “clamped down” on students.
He said: “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.”
Students have already been fined for breaching social distancing rules at Aberdeen and Manchester Metropolitan universities. Fines are up to £800 at Bristol University.
Ministers have ordered universities to keep students on campus during outbreaks, and that is likely to include Christmas.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden did not guarantee students would be able to return home for the festive season.
He told Sky: “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.”
Shadow justice secretary David Lammy told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “We want young people home with their families at Christmas time and they need the testing to make sure that that can happen.”
“By Christmas we would have had the coronavirus for nine months, that we couldn’t get a test, track and trace system in place by then has got to be described as pathetic.
“Of course we should be able to get students back with their families after a term at university.”
Asked if students should get their fees back, Mr Lammy said: “Look it’s clear that there are actually lots of universities struggling financially so there’s a balance here to be struck.
“Many of us have gone online, the key now is to get students online successfully and for them to have face-to-face tuition where it is safe to do so.”