Elite universities have fined students more than £400,000 for breaching coronavirus restrictions, The Telegraph can reveal, as a Government adviser accused institutions of "over-zealous" enforcement of rules.

Nearly 4,000 penalties were handed to students from campus officials for infringing Government legislation surrounding masks, parties, social distancing and self-isolation, despite no involvement from the police.

Warwick and Nottingham universities, the two highest-fining in the UK, charged students £230,000 in permanent or suspended fines.

Penalties at various institutions were up to £500 each and some remain subject to appeals.

Figures obtained by The Telegraph show 16 Russell Group universities have issued financial penalties totaling £434,729 since the start of the pandemic.

Sanctions for breaches have ranged from community service on university grounds, suspensions, campus bans and in some cases expulsion.

Professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on the Goverment’s Nervtag scientific body and Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) vaccination advisory group, told The Telegraph that while universities were placed in a "difficult" financial position by the pandemic, some had been "disproportionate" in their level of fining towards students.  

He said: "The sort of behaviour by campus patrols is clearly over-zealous in its attack on the kind of small-scale communal life that is important for student mental health and which would have passed unnoticed in thousands of private homes around the country."

He added the Covid-19 pandemic had fueled complaints from residents in university towns and cities.

"The result has been a big expansion of university jurisdiction over the behaviour of students off-campus and a somewhat unholy alliance between university managements and councils against the exuberant lifestyles of some students," he said.

While students have been forced to learn on webcams and sit exams online for most of the crisis, universities have set their own rules regarding coronavirus with guidelines covering mask-wearing, visitors and mass gatherings, based on Government guidance.

The University of Warwick, which had planned to make £100 million of savings over this academic year, handed out 816 fines to students totalling more than £138,000.

The funds were diverted to a student hardship fund. Nottingham University issued 387 fines, £30,000 permanent and £60,000 suspended until further breaches, along with 639 formal warnings.

Last week it emerged the institution is paying up to 100 hours of police overtime for extra patrols of student neighbourhoods to enforce Covid-19 rules in a new trial, despite Government plans to lift all restrictions in ten days.

At the University of Manchester, where students erupted in protest last autumn at fences put up around security blocks to stop socialising, 429 students were fined for Covid-19 breaches in halls coming to £29,000 in total.

A university spokesman said the penalties affected a very small proportion of the student population and that staff had a “duty of care to act” on coronavirus breaches.

St Andrews University issued 669 fines totalling £42,980 and Liverpool handed out 569 penalties to the value of £31,400.

Queen’s University Belfast gave 282 fines totalling £32,650 along with two exclusions, 13 year-long suspensions and 356 mini suspensions of up to 14 days, some of which are being appealed.

Punishments at the University of York for Covid-19 breaches ranged from mandatory room relocations, "no contact agreements", while five students were banned from campus buildings and another five served three-month exclusions.

At King’s College London and the University of Manchester, Covid-19 rule breach penalties included 40 hours of campus "community service".

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, the NUS vice-president for higher education, said: "Our research shows that students have been as concerned as the general public when it comes to worrying about Covid, and so the levels of fines universities are issuing is frankly unacceptable."

A Russell Group spokesman said: "Our universities have worked hard to make campuses Covid-secure during the pandemic, with twice-weekly testing, extensive cleaning and social distancing measures.

"Our members know students continue to face stress and disruption due to Covid.

"All have made financial support packages available for students facing hardship, as well as maintaining a full range of support services including counselling, mentoring and mental health services."