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Updated at 1:22 pm on 23 September 2012
New restrictions on subjects women university students can study have come into effect in Iran, as the nation's academic year kicked off on Saturday.
Seventy-seven courses are banned including nuclear physics, computer science and English literature, the ABC reports.
No official reason has been given for the restrictions to courses at more than 30 universities.
A much smaller number of courses were also barred to men in some campuses, including studies in history, linguistics, literature, sociology and philosophy.
The US-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the restrictions extended a creeping "Islamicisation" of Iran's universities that have been imposed under president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi says it is part of a policy to weaken women's role in Iranian society.
At present, some 60% of students are female and 40% male.
Higher education minister Kamran Daneshjoo has sought to play down the changes, saying that 90% of university courses are still open to both men and women.
And the dean of Iran's Petroleum University of Technology, Gholamreza Rashed, was quoted by the IRAN newspaper last week as blaming market forces - implying job prospects were shrinking because of Western sanctions.
He said his school was no longer accepting women students due to "the hardship of the work situation, and because the oil industry does not need female students right now."
Copyright © 2012, Radio New Zealand
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