Cameron Urges Universities Not to Allow Segregation by Sex

U.K Prime Minister David Cameron said universities should not allow guest speakers to address audiences segregated by sex and called for a review of college guidelines that provide for the possibility.

There have been protests from student groups and others after Universities U.K., an umbrella body, issued guidance on dealing with external speakers that included a section on how to accommodate “a representative of an ultra-orthodox religious group” who requested an audience segregated by gender.

“The prime minister doesn’t believe that guest speakers should be allowed to address segregated audiences,” Cameron’s spokesman, Jean-Christophe Gray, told reporters in London today. “There’s a long history of free speech in our education establishments and that’s a very important tradition.”

Cameron wants to support universities taking a “tough approach” to requests for segregation, Gray said. Universities U.K. said later it’s withdrawn its case study while it reviews the law around the issue.

“Universities U.K. agrees entirely with the prime minister that universities should not enforce gender segregation on audiences at the request of guest speakers,” Nicola Dandridge, the group’s chief executive officer, said in a statement posted on its website. “However, where the gender segregation is voluntary, the law is unclear. We are working with our lawyers” and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a government-appointed watchdog, “to clarify the position.”

The case study in the Universities U.K. report gave details of the legislation that would apply, including the importance of ensuring neither gender receives “less favorable treatment,” and suggested setting up a mixed-gender area as well as those for men and women.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said the organization should not allow speakers who request segregation.

“We should not pander to extremism. Speakers who insist on segregating audiences should not be indulged by educators,” Gove said, according to a report in the Daily Mail newspaper.

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