A college has defended its decision to ban Muslim students from wearing veils for “security” reasons.
Birmingham Metropolitan College hit the headlines after it emerged that staff, students and visitors are required to remove all facial coverings so they are “easily identifiable”.
This includes hats, caps and hooded tops, but also the niqab, the traditional veil worn by some Muslim women that covers the whole face except the eyes.
Although the college insists the policy has been in place for some time, it only came to light at the beginning of the new term last week when prospective students were informed.
One prospective student, a 17-year-old Muslim girl, said the decision was “disgusting” and “shocking” in such a multicultural city, and said she would enrol in another college.
But the college’s principal, Dame Christine Braddock, defended the policy, which she said was developed with students.
“We have a very robust Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Policy but we are committed to ensuring that students are provided with a safe and welcoming learning environment whilst studying with us,” she said
“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.
“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.”
Birmingham Met, which was formed after the merger of Matthew Boulton and Sutton Colfield colleges in 2009, describes itself as a "flagship college" and “one of the leading providers of further and higher education in the Midlands”.
It provides education and training for 9,000 16-19 year old learners, 35,000 adult learners, and more than 250 international learners.
The college is also one of the 29 members of the influential 157 Group of colleges.
A spokesman for the group said college policies and practice are a matter for individual institutions.
“The 157 Group provides a forum for college principals to discuss a wide range of issues, but neither advises nor comments on individual colleges' policy decisions."
The Association of Colleges (AOC) said it encourages colleges to consult with staff, students and other stakeholders when devising these policies, and offers themadvice and guidance on current case law and equality issues.
Marc Whitworth, employment services manager at the AoC, said: “These are sensitive and difficult issues to deal with and colleges carefully consider whether the proposed action is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, for example student safety or, given colleges are learning environments, effective communication between staff and students."