Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday called for more freedoms in universities, where many professors and students have been sidelined over their political activities.

His remarks, carried by ISNA news agency, come a week after the moderate president urged Iranian police to be more lenient in enforcing rules on how women dress.

Speaking at Tehran University, the president, who pledged more social freedoms during his election campaign, said it would be a "shame" if professors could not express their opinions.

University officials should respect freedom of expression, and "we should not be involved in the bad and inappropriate tendency of sending teachers into early retirement," he was quoted as saying.

In 2006 his hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said universities should be purged of liberal and secular individuals, and later that year many professors were sent into early retirement.

Rouhani also called on students to pursue the sciences and said authorities should relax rules that prevent them from travelling abroad.

"We need a diplomacy of sciences and you, students, must help with that issue," Rouhani said.

"I call on the security services to pave the way to that diplomacy and to trust professors and students."

Iran’s civil rights record and censorship is regularly criticised by international rights watchdogs and Western governments.