UK & World News

  • 13 December 2013, 20:46

Cameron: No To University Segregation

David Cameron has intervened in the row over the segregation of men and women in universities saying it should not be allowed, a Downing Street official has said.

Universities UK (UUK) has withdrawn its guidance endorsing the separation of men and women in debates and lectures featuring guest speakers after the Prime Minister urged university leaders to urgently review its position.

A number 10 spokesman said Mr Cameron felt very strongly about the issue and "does not believe that guest speakers should be allowed to address segregated audiences".

He made clear that Mr Cameron wanted a ban on gender-segregated audiences on campus even where men and women voluntarily separate themselves.

Asked if the Prime Minister would be willing to legislate to stop segregation, the spokesman added: "We want to support the universities in taking a tough approach and if more may need to be done then of course the Government would look at that."

Downing Street's intervention in the row follows angry demonstrations by students outraged at the advice.

UUK's chief executive Nicola Dandridgehad robustly defended the guidance, insisting segregation was voluntary, not enforced, and that separating men and women was not "alien to our culture".

However, following the comments from Downing Street, she said: "Universities UK agrees entirely with the Prime Minister that universities should not enforce gender segregation on audiences at the request of guest speakers.

"However, where the gender segregation is voluntary, the law is unclear. We are working with our lawyers and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to clarify the position."

"Meanwhile the case study which triggered this debate has been withdrawn pending this review."

Education Secretary Michael Govehad said the guidance was in danger of "pandering to extremists" and that it was "wrong and harmful".

Shadow Business Secretary ChukaUmunna said he was "horrified" by the university leaders' position on the issue.

He told Sky News: "When you have equality and non-discrimination in conflict with religious freedom, equality is always going to win, as far as I'm concerned."

The UUK guidance claims that although asking women to sit at the back of a room would be discriminatory, a voluntary arrangement placing men on one side and women on the other would be acceptable.

A report by Student Rights found that segregated seating was promoted at more than a quarter of 180 university events at which radical preachers spoke in the year to March.

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