Cash-strapped campus to open its doors to men

October 1, 1999

From October, the Jordanian University for Women will change its name to the University of Petra and start to accept male students in a bid to raise funds.

The decision to change the private university was taken by the board of directors earlier this year. The university's director, Mahmoud Samra, said this was the only way they could make a profit: "At the end of last year we had 1,400 female students here; in October 25 per cent will leave, but the total number of registrations is up to 2,000 already."

Mr Samra anticipates that even more female students may leave the university."Half of our students came here from the Gulf - their parents will only let them study at single-sex universities."

Fatima, 21, from Saudi Arabia, is one of the lucky ones who is being allowed to stay, but only on certain conditions. "My parents say I can only stay on here if I start wearing a headscarf.I'm angry about men joining."

Although the university will now include men, an interim period has been arranged. This means that those who have already started studying at the university will have minimal contact with men.

Dr Samra said: "Nothing will change for the current students. They will continue exactly as they were because we want to give them exactly the same education and university life as we promised. I have received many questions from parents and I have reassured them that we will have two separate reading rooms and the laboratories will be fixed with times for women and times for men."

Higher education establishments in Jordan have a good reputation abroad and this is one of the reasons why students from the Gulf apply to universities there, even though there are women-only universities in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

The practice of single-sex education has its roots in Islamic law, but this is applied less strictly in Jordan than in the Gulf states. Many Jordanian students at the university would like to see Islamic law more strictly applied.

Maha, a second-year student, wears a headscarf and the characteristic coat like dress of modern conservative Islam. She voted against the inclusion of male students in a referendum held earlier this year. She said: "I have a problem studying with boys, the way you talk to men is different. It is to do with our tradition and religion. I'm disappointed in the university."

Another student added: "Attending a women-only university makes life more straightforward. I think it's fine to have boys on campus. I don't think I'll work any less. But I'll have to stop smoking and I won't have as much fun. In Jordan a girl's reputation is very important."

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