Plaid Cymru have said that current plans for students to return to universities across the UK are “completely untenable”.
Students from England are currently being told to stay at home until mid-February, but those studying in universities in Wales are being offered a phased return starting next week.
The Welsh Government said before Christmas that university students would have a staggered start date after Christmas and be asked to take two Covid tests once they return.
Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Post-16 Education, Helen Mary Jones MS said it was “no wonder many students do not know what to do for the best”.
“Given the gravity of the public health emergency, and the fact that schools have had to be closed, we are calling for Welsh Government to tell most students to stay where they are, and for most University learning to go online for now,” she said.
“Only those studying courses where face to face and practical learning is absolutely essential, such as nursing, medicine and veterinary science, should return to face to face study, and that in a very carefully controlled way to minimise social contact.
“The public health crisis is so serious that tens of thousands of young people moving about the country at this time is just wrong.”
Plaid Cymru also called for the Welsh Government to ensure that universities are fully compensated financially for losses as a result of students not returning.
“It is vital that our universities are effectively supported at this difficult time,” Helen Mary Jones said. “They will have a major role to play in rebuilding our society and our economy when the crisis is over.
“Ways must also be found for students who have paid their accommodation costs upfront, or who are tied into contracts for the whole academic year to be repaid or released from their contracts.
“It is simply unfair for them to be paying for accommodation they cannot use, particularly at a time when many of the part-time work opportunities that students rely on to top up their incomes in fields like hospitality are not available.
“We understand that many universities have been generous to their students in this regard and we appreciate that. This loss of income should be taken into account when Welsh Government is providing additional funds to universities. But there is a real issue with students whose contract with private landlords.
“We are calling on the Welsh Government to work with the UK Government to find ways in which emergency powers can be used to release students from their accommodation contracts, and to ensure that business support is available to private landlords affected.”
Conservative education spokeswoman Suzy Davies MS said she has already contacted Education Minister Kirsty Williams to “urge her to clarify the position” whether there are changes for university students in Wales or not.
“The most important thing right now is for students to have certainty on what is happening,” she said.