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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

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Cumbria MP and university united against segregation ‘farce’

GENDER segregation in universities has been branded ‘farcical’ by Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron.

Lib Dem Mr Farron has said tolerance of religious needs is necessary, but has disagreed with students being seated based on gender at an Islamic Society lecture.

It has been revealed university students at Leicester University and Queen Mary University in London were forced to sit in separate rows.

At Queen Mary females were not allowed to speak publicly.

Mr Farron said: “I welcome the news that Universities UK has withdrawn its guidance on the gender segregation of audiences in lectures and debates.

“As a liberal I am instinctively against segregation and when I heard about this advice I was concerned about it, and I still am.

“Forced segregation of any kind, including gender segregation, is never acceptable on our university campuses or any campus.

“I think we need to be tolerant of religious differences but this idea seems farcical, the advice seems to have suggested that at talks men and women would be considered to be ‘segregated’ if they sit in different rows.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has said that segregation was not permissible in an academic meeting or in a lecture open to the public.

Mr Farron added: “If we bring in a blanket ban it could have some unintended consequences.

“I think we need to have a wider debate about segregation in society.

“Many parents decide to educate their children in single-sex schools. Those parents may well point to the (limited) evidence that girls do better, particularly in subjects like maths, in a single-sex environment.

“The advice given by UUK is in my view quite wrong, but it’s equally important that we approach this in a mature and tolerant way – and that we respect one another’s views on the subject.”

The University of Cumbria says its Islamic society takes an inclusive approach, “respects diversity of opinion” and works closely with the university chaplaincy.

Head of library and student services Margaret Weaver said: “The University of Cumbria is committed to creating a positive environment where everyone is treated with dignity and respect and is supported in the development of their careers and studies.

“We have a diverse student body and we are sensitive to the beliefs of the various groups within the university population.

“Our current position is that we would not agree to the segregation of students on our campuses.

“We have a clear duty under the law and our equality and diversity policy reflects this while also embedding equality of opportunity and continuous improvement.

“We work closely with the Students’ Union and the chaplaincy on multi-faith activities.

“We are aware of the Universities UK guidance and the further review and clarification that is being sought on this matter, and we will keep abreast of further developments.”

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