President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said plans to segregate male and female students at Iranian universities must be halted, drawing another battle line in his ongoing tussle with traditionalist rivals.
As part of a wider drive to assert Islamic values at Iran's colleges, the minister in charge of higher education has said male and female students must be taught separately when classes begin again in September.
But in a message on his website yesterday Mr Ahmadinejad said the policy must be stopped.
He said: "It has been heard that in some universities, classes and disciplines are being segregated without considering the coincidences. Urgent action is required to prevent these superficial and non-scholarly actions."
Mr Ahmadinejad's opposition will further alienate his conservative and religious critics who have become increasingly outspoken against him and his circle of advisers which they say belong to a "deviant current" that puts secular nationalism ahead of Islam, posing a potential threat to Iran's clerical rule.
Science, research and technology minister Kamran Daneshjou was quoted as saying: "Following the implementation of the Hijab (Islamic dress] and Chastity Plan, university classes will be separated. If there is not the facility to separate the classes, students will sit in separate rows."
More than half of Iran's 3.7 million students are women, studying alongside their male classmates. Education has become a focus for conservatives who want to head off what they consider corrosive western values among the youth born long after the 1979 Islamic revolution.