College defends Muslim veil ban

A Midland college has defended its security policy that effectively bans Muslim students wearing face veils, but refused to say if it would be reviewed in light of mounting criticism and media coverage.

Birmingham Metropolitan College hit the headlines this week when a prospective Muslim student was told of the policy preventing learners from wearing a niqab.

The girl, who did not want to be named, branded the policy “disgusting” and said she was being “discriminated against”.

Protestors angry at the policy are set to visit the college on Friday according to a Facebook group and the NUS has also hit out at the ban.

College principal Dame Christine Braddock has so far refused to back down on the policy, which a college spokesperson said had been in place for eight years.

But the principal declined to comment on whether it would be reviewed in light of objections to the policy and local and national media coverage.

She told FE Week: “Birmingham Metropolitan College actively engages with our stakeholders and users of our buildings to review our policies on a regular basis.”

The rule preventing use of niqabs — a veil which leaves a thin slot for the eyes — also means hoodies, hats and caps are banned.

The policy at the college, which had more than 26,000 students just over two years ago before merging with the 12,500-student Stourbridge College this summer – is that individuals should be “easily identifiable at all times”.

However, Colum McGuire, NUS vice president for welfare, said: “While it is important to ensure safety on campuses, it should not mean that students lose the right to express their religious beliefs and practises.

“It is unacceptable for a college to enact a policy that, perhaps unintentionally, has a disproportionate impact on a specific group of students due to their faith or belief.

“No group of students from any community should feel specifically targeted due to an institutional policy.

“NUS believes in progressive learning environments and recognises the importance of safe, cohesive campus relations which are open to all.”

But other students at the college — which achieved a good grading from Ofsted in March 2011 — said the ban made them feel safer.

Chante Young, 17, a business student, said: “You don’t know who is underneath it. You can’t see any of their face — only their eyes.”

Dame Christine said: “We have a very robust equality, diversity and inclusion policy at Birmingham Metropolitan College, but we are committed to ensuring that students are provided with a safe and welcoming learning environment while studying with us.

“To ensure that safeguarding is a priority, we have developed our policy alongside student views to ensure we keep them safe.

“This needs individuals to be easily identifiable at all times when they are on college premises and this includes the removal of hoodies, hats, caps and veils so that faces are visible.”

She added: “All prospective and progressing students, as well as staff, have been advised of the policy, which will mean everyone allowed on the premises can understand and know each other in a safe environment.”