Most university students in Scotland will not return to campus until March, the First Minister has announced.
Coronavirus guidance from the Scottish Government has shifted, meaning face-to-face teaching will not resume for January or February.
However, some students whose studies require in-person teaching will be able to start back.
Students who have stayed on campus over the festive period will also be allowed to stay.
Colleges will follow the protection level of their local authority, meaning that students may be allowed back before their university counterparts, but most teaching will be done online this month and into February.
Speaking at the coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh on Friday, Nicola Sturgeon said: “I can confirm that the staggered return to term-time accommodation and studies for students, which had been planned for since the end of last term, will now be extended.
“For the vast majority of university students, learning and teaching will be online only until at least the end of February.
“And that means if you’re a student you should stay at home rather than travelling back to your campus or term-time accommodation.
“There will be exceptions to that in the very small number of cases where remote study is not possible – for example for a student nurse or a doctor on a practical placement.
“Any students who have remained on campus will be fully supported by their institution.
“However, the vast majority of university students should stay at home rather than travelling back to university and should be learning online over the next period.”
She added that the government would keep the measures “under close and ongoing review”.
National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland president Matt Crilly called on the Scottish Government to make online learning the “default position” for the rest of the semester to avoid students being forced to pay rent for accommodation they will not live in.
“As things stand, students are being expected to pay expensive rent for accommodation they can’t use,” he said.
“The Scottish Government must intervene and make urgent financial support available to ensure no student is left out of pocket.”
Opposition parties have called for students paying rent to universities for accommodation they are legally not allowed to live in to be supported.
The Scottish Greens pushed for a students rent waiver, meaning private student accommodation providers and universities could not claim rent for the duration of the ban on attendance.
The party’s education spokesman, Ross Greer, said: “The pandemic is creating a financial crisis for students and their families. Universities, colleges and the Scottish Government need to work together to support students in financial hardship as a result of circumstances outwith their control.”
Tory education spokesman Jamie Greene said: “The SNP Government must urgently deliver rent refunds to students who will now suffer financially through no fault of their own.
“We need to see this money getting to students immediately, not months down the line when they’re already out of pocket.”
Before the changes were announced, Labour housing spokeswoman Pauline McNeill called for rent paid by students for January to be refunded.
She said: “We simply cannot have students being hit in the pocket by rent for accommodation that they have not returned to or feel could imperil their health.”