College students celebrate as face veil ban overturned

Students are celebrating today after a controversial ban on face veils at Birmingham Metropolitan College was reversed.

NUS Black Students congratulated Muslimah Pride activists in Birmingham for their efforts in persuading college authorities to abandon the niqab ban.

College principal Dame Christine Braddock had argued students' "safeguarding" required a ban on veils, hats, hoodies and caps while on campus in order to ensure they are "easily identifiable at all times".

Prime minister David Cameron had backed the college's decision to implement the move, defending educational institutions' ability to "set and enforce their own school uniform policies".

But deputy prime minister Nick Clegg had admitted he was "uneasy" with the change.

"As a general principle, other than those rather exceptional circumstances, I'm really quite uneasy about anyone being told what they have to wear and I certainly would need to understand why," he told LBC.

"I think I've set the bar very high to justify something like that because one of the things that is great about our country is that we are diverse, we are tolerant."

It took 9,000 signatures from an online petition set up by NUS Black Students to achieve the climbdown, however.

"We are concerned that recent media attention is detracting from our core mission of providing high quality learning," Birmingham Metropolitan College said in a statement.

"As a consequence, we will modify our policies to allow individuals to wear specific items of personal clothing to reflect their cultural values."

It conceded it would be able to comply with "national regulations, examination board requirements and applicable legislation" while doing so.

The news prompted delight from the students whose campaign had brought about the retreat.

"It shows that strong united campaigning can change things," the NUS' Aaron Keeley said in a Facebook status update.

"We should note that in France they have banned the veil and across Europe there are serious campaigns to prevent women from having the right to choose what they wear. We have today set back those who wish to do the same in Britain."

Birmingham Ladywood MP Shabana Mahmood, a Labour backbencher, said the policy change was "enormously welcome".

"The college has made a wise decision to rethink its policy on banning veils for a group of women who would have potentially been excluded from education and skills training at the college had the ban been enforced," she commented.

"My thanks go out to all those who backed the campaign."