Care minister Helen Whately said she “absolutely hopes” that students will be able to see their families over the festive period.
However, she implied there was a chance they may have to stay at university if the spread of coronavirus is not brought under control.
Asked if students will be able to go home for Christmas, Ms Whately told Sky News: “I absolutely hope so. I know that as a student at the moment — particularly if you are in a university where there is an outbreak and you’re being told to self-isolate — that is not the student experience you were looking forward to.”
Pressed on whether they will have to stay in halls over Christmas, she added: “You’ve heard the secretary of state, he won’t rule anything out. But what we want is to see people being able to spend time with their families.”
She added: “Matt Hancock said you can’t rule that out. But we absolutely don’t want to. Christmas is months ahead so let’s do the right thing over the weeks and months ahead.”
It comes as thousands of students across the UK have been forced to self-isolate after a surge in Covid-19 cases.
Up to 1,700 students at Manchester Metropolitan University and hundreds at other institutions including in Edinburgh and Glasgow, are having to self-isolate following outbreaks.
Manchester Met students claim they have been prevented from leaving their halls of residence by security guards.
They said they received no warning of the stringent measures and hit back by sticking posters to their windows, spelling out “help” and criticising the Government.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said he has been assured that they would be allowed to leave to go for coronavirus tests.
Larissa Kennedy, president of the National Union of Students, said students self-isolating at universities are “trapped” in “disgusting conditions”.
She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain, said: “I’ve heard from other students who, they’ve turned up with an amount of toilet roll, told with no notice that they’re going to be locked down and wondering where the next roll of toilet roll is coming from.
“It just feels like these are disgusting conditions for students to have been trapped in.”
London universities have said they are introducing measures to protect students. At London South Bank University, 7,000 bottles of hand sanitiser will be handed out which can be attached to jackets, bags and pockets. Also 7,000 knives and forks will also be distributed for students to use when they eat on and off campus.
Term starts today at University College London where students can choose to study on campus or at home during the first term, but masks must be worn in the classrooms and physical access to study spaces, common rooms and libraries will be restricted.
London Metropolitan University has pushed back the start of its term to October 12 to give staff and students more time to prepare — with the vast majority of students there taking part in lectures remotely until 2021.
The University of Greenwich has introduced an online enrolment service and phased induction period to manage the flow of new students arriving on campus. The School of Oriental and African Studies is running virtual wellbeing drop-in sessions for students and has moved its “welcome week” off campus and online for a “welcome season”.
The University of Westminster has teamed up with psychologists to launch an online tool offering mental health support. Royal Holloway is providing airport pickup for international students and a room to quarantine in, and the student union shop can deliver food to rooms.
All students at the University of East London will have access to online exercise classes. Labour shadow education secretary Kate Green has written to her counterpart Gavin Williamson calling on the Government to promise university students will be allowed to return home to their families for Christmas.
Mr Williamson was set to face an urgent question in the Commons about the issue this afternoon.