Group hits back over student segregation
It is labelled 'segregation' and even 'gender apartheid' that has no place in 21st century Britain. But a religious group today defended the practice of organising lectures at universities, including one in the West Midlands, where men and women sit separately.
Thousands of people, including the Prime Minister David Cameron, want Universities UK to overturn its policy of accepting separate seating for genders as long as it is on a voluntary basis. Universities UK is the representative body for universities.
The practice takes place at Aston University when student societies or religious groups use its premises for lectures. But the university does not allow segregation for any of its own courses.
Top university allows segregation for men and women during lectures
However, the presidents of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies has called the row a 'storm in a tea cup' and said there was nothing wrong with choosing to have separate seating for men and women.
Omar Ali said: "Segregation is a divisive word. Student societies may choose to have seating areas for males and females."
The equality campaign group Student Rights lists at least three events that it said took place at Aston University with segregated seating.
The university said it has seen no evidence to back up claims that segregation was enforced. Meanwhile, David Cameron has called for Universities UK, to look again at official guidance which endorses the voluntary separation of men and women in audiences for debates and lectures involving Muslim speakers on campus.
And education secretary Michael Gove said: "We should not pander to extremism. Speakers who insist on segregating audiences should not be indulged by educators."
The row over segregation has sparked protests and petitions across the country. Wolverhampton South West Conservative MP Paul Uppal said the practice was 'disturbing'. He said:
"Segregation shouldn't have any place anywhere." Alex Earnshaw, spokesman for Aston University, said: "Any university organised event would involve no segregation whatsoever – its only within student societies that this may take place."
Other universities, including Wolverhampton ban segregation. Maria Scrivens, from Staffordshire University, said: "We don't allow segregated events of any kind as this would contradict our equality policy.