In a move that has prompted a demand for a UN investigation by Iran's most celebrated human rights campaigner, the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, 36 universities have announced that 77 BA and BSc courses in the coming academic year will be "single gender" and effectively exclusive to men.

It follows years in which Iranian women students have outperformed men, a trend at odds with the traditional male-dominated outlook of the country's religious leaders. Women outnumbered men by three to two in passing this year's university entrance exam.

Senior clerics in Iran's theocratic regime have become concerned about the social side-effects of rising educational standards among women, including declining birth and marriage rates.

Under the new policy, women undergraduates will be excluded from a broad range of studies in some of the country's leading institutions, including English literature, English translation, hotel management, archaeology, nuclear physics, computer science, electrical engineering, industrial engineering and business management.