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Francophone universities to allow religious symbols from September

Illustration picture shows a group of Muslim girls wearing head scarves, talking together (BELGA PHOTO LUC CLAESSEN)
11:27 18/01/2021

Religious symbols will be allowed in higher education institutions throughout the Wallonia-Brussels Education network (WBE) as soon as the next academic year, Julien Nicaise, WBE's managing director, announced on Saturday.

While the symbols were so far banned in the institutions run by the WBE, "they will now be allowed from September 2021," Nicaise said.

This change will take place from the start of the next academic year in all WBE higher education institutions and all social promotion centres. Five universities, five higher arts schools and 29 social promotion institutions are thus involved. WBE higher education institutions cater for approximately 20,000 students, while its social promotion centres serve about 30,000 students.

The decision to authorise religious symbols, including the wearing of the veil (with exceptions, for example, when safety could be threatened or for reasons of hygiene) was taken by the WBE board of directors, which includes representatives of all political parties. "I was surprised a consensus was reached so quickly, considering all the different levels that had to work together,” said Julien Nicaise.

Headscarves are already allowed in most higher education institutions in the Catholic network. The same decision was also included in the majority agreement of the Brussels Region authorities.

As recently as this summer, Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort confirmed that this change would be implemented in all schools of social promotion organised by Cocof (the French Community Commission) and Esac (the Higher School of Circus Arts).

Written by Nick Amies