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back students' right to wear the burkha
clothing would discourage diversity in higher
education, union leaders warn
Students should have the right to wear religious
attire, such as burkhas, in colleges and
universities, lecturers will be told tomorrow.
Leaders of the University and College Union
(UCU) will pledge their support for the right of
people of all faiths "to wear the religious
head-dress and other religious attire
appropriate to their faiths".
The union argues that the move is essential to
encourage participation in further and higher
education among ethnic minority groups –
also debate an amendment condemning what it
calls "the alarming precedent" of a UK college
prohibiting students from wearing the veil in
college. Burnley College in Lancashire took the
decision last year on security grounds. In 2009,
it had also refused a student permission to
enroll at the college while she was wearing a
The debate comes
on the heels of the French government's decision
to ban the wearing of the veil in public – a
move criticised by the union as
evidence of increasing
Islam phobia. Other countries, such as
Austria, are said to be considering similar
moves to France if the number of women wearing
"Anybody should be free to wear what they choose
to follow their beliefs," said Alan Whitaker,
president of the UCU. "That has been a principle
of the union. We are a secular union but that
doesn't mean we're anti-religion.
"We're in favour
of people's freedom to practice any religion
they choose, and to be able to follow the
customs of that religion – and that includes
what clothing they wear."
Delegates will cite as
further evidence of Islam phobia the Swiss
referendum decision to forbid the construction
of minarets on mosques.
A further amendment, tabled by lecturers at the
London School of Economics, says that "an
important principle of education is to combat
superstition and prejudice".
The LSE lecturers stress that allowing people of
all faiths to wear what they want would help to
achieve this. The amendment adds: "People of all
faiths, or of none, have the right to dress as
they personally consider appropriate."
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