Lord Bethel praised the work of university leaders for making campuses as safe as possible by putting social distancing measures in place at lectures and classes.
But he warned that students will also need to play a role in stopping the spread of coronavirus when they mingle in pubs and clubs as well as each other’s bedrooms.
“We are deeply concerned about the spread among students,” Lord Bethel told The House of Lords. “Some of that spread will take place in universities, and I pay tribute to the efforts of vice-chancellors to put in place social distancing arrangements in universities; we hope that they will have an impact.
“However, some of the effect is in their social life – in pubs, clubs and bedrooms up and down the country. That is the responsibility of the students themselves, and we are looking at measures to enhance and enforce the social distancing measures that will stop the spread of this disease.”
On Wednesday night, the Department for Education published guidance for universities, setting out how they can open safely.
Lecturers should “consider whether some tuition in certain subjects can be conducted outside”, the guidance says. It also suggests that the size of orchestras or casts in drama productions could be reduced in order to limit larger gatherings.
Universities should support students to socialise in “Covid-secure environments” as well as find safe, sociable activities for them to take part in.
Vice-chancellors have been told to consider offering students incentives for complying with safety measures, as well as the use of disciplinary measures for those who break the rules.
On Thursday, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary (see video below), also pleaded with university students to “follow the rules”.