Protestants in Northern Ireland are travelling up to 25 miles to avoid studying in the same universities and colleges as Catholics, a conference has been told.
Queen's University and Univer-sity of Ulster have long had a more integrated image than segregated local schools. But a conference held by the National Union of Students/Union of Students in Ireland was told that sectarianism is alive in tertiary education.
Will Glendinning, development officer of the Community Relations Council, said research in rural Armagh showed male Protestant students would rather take three or four buses to Banbridge, up to 25 miles away, than attend colleges at home.
Peter O'Neill, manager of the NUS/USI, said: "Students' unions do need to be more proactive in encouraging contact. But given what has happened here over the last 25 years, it's remarkable there hasn't been more aggro. What is really needed is more detailed and coherent research in this area."
The north-west of the province, particularly Limavady, is another area where Protestants and Catholics go out of their way to avoid each other. "Sectarian harassment should be a serious disciplinary offence, identified by college rules", Mr O'Neill added.
The conference also heard that student union research has revealed "disturbing evidence" of only low-level contact between Catholic and Protestant students, particular- ly at St. Mary's and Stranmillis teacher training colleges and the University of Ulster.