Segregated audiences not acceptable at UK universities, PM says

Fri Dec 13, 2013 10:43am EST
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By Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron weighed into a debate over gender segregation at British universities on Friday, saying he believed separating men and women in the audiences for some guest speakers was unacceptable.

The issue arose earlier this year after events involving an Islamic speaker at University College London and at Leicester University were staged with separate seating for men and women.

Debate intensified last month when guidance by Universities UK - which represents 132 of the country's top academic centers including Oxford and Cambridge - said voluntary separate seating for men and women may sometimes be appropriate if an external religious speaker requests it.

Over 9,000 people have signed a petition condemning Universities UK for the policy which they say endorses "gender apartheid". On Tuesday, 100 people staged a protest outside Universities UK's headquarters in London.

Politicians and student bodies have also criticized the stance.

"He (Cameron) doesn't believe that guest speakers should be allowed to address segregated audiences and so he believes that Universities UK should urgently review its guidance," his spokesman said.

Universities UK said it had withdrawn the part of its guidance on splitting audiences along gender lines pending clarity from the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the issue - after defending the guidance on Thursday.

The Leicester University lecture prompted newspapers in April to publish photographs of handwritten signs pointing "brothers" and "sisters" in different directions above a poster advertising a talk hosted by the university's Islamic Society.   Continued...

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks at the G8 Dementia Summit, at Lancaster House in central London December 11, 2013 REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau/Pool