Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, today weighed into the debate over Muslim women wearing the veil by offering his support to universities that banned the full-face veil.
He repeated the views he expressed on EducationGuardian.co.uk last month after a year of visits to university campuses to talk to Muslim students. Muslim students were entitled to ask for tolerance and consideration but there were limits to what they could and should ask for, argued Mr Rammell.
He said that Imperial College was wrong to attempt to ban women students from wearing the hijab, which covers their heads. The university’s proposed code was amended after protests. But Imperial was right to insist on banning the niqab which covers the face, argued Mr Rammell.
Today he told the Evening Standard newspaper: “I’m not dictating hard and fast rules, as dress codes are a matter for university authorities. But Imperial College recently banned the face veil and I think that this is arguably the best decision. Many teachers would feel very uncomfortable about their ability to teach students who were covering their faces.”
Mr Rammell added: “And I doubt many students would feel it was acceptable to be taught by someone who had chosen to veil their face.”
The National Union of Students (NUS) condemned Mr Rammell’s comments as “unproductive”.
Ruqaayah Collector, the NUS’s black students officer, said Imperial was considered a bad example of how to tackle the issue among other universities. “As a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, I’m worried the debate will go the same way as in France and other countries in Europe. It starts off with this and could move onto other forms of clothing.
“We need the Muslim community on board if we are going to fight extremism. Muslims should feel comfortable going to their MP, however they want to dress. It’s important to respect personal choices. It is a woman’s right to choose how they dress and not be told by men,” said Ms Collector.