Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday ordered the immediate cancellation of plans to segregate sexes at some universities, blasting the move as "shallow and unwise," his website reported.
"In some universities, single-gender courses and classes are implemented without considering their consequences," the president said in a letter to the ministers of higher education and health published by his website.
"It is necessary that these shallow and unwise actions are prevented immediately," Ahmadinejad said against the backdrop of a lively debate in media and among officials over reports of plans to divide female and male students.
The order comes amid a campaign by the ultra-conservative and religious camps dominating the Iranian regime for the abolition of co-education in universities for the new academic year.
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On Tuesday, higher education minister Kamran Daneshjoo denied having any plans for gender segregation at universities.
"Men and women must sit in separate rows in university," he said, while insisting his ministry was pressing ahead with plans for the "Islamisation" of the education system.
"We do not want to create a wall (but) we are against the mingling of men and women based on Western styles," Daneshjoo said, adding students would not be prevented from "cooperation when it comes to acquisition of science."
Health Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi also rejected gender segregation plans, saying it was unrealistic to separate male and female medical students who would have to face patients of both sexes as future doctors.
Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, the number of university students has swelled about 20 times to nearly 3.5 million, according to Iranian media.
Over the past decade, the number of female students in higher education has been higher than their male classmates. Girls are expected to represent nearly 60 percent of freshmen in the 2011 academic year.