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Uni duty to stop radicalising on campus

In time for the 2015-16 academic year, universities and colleges in the UK will be legally required to put in place specific policies to stop extremists radicalising students on campuses, tackle gender segregation at events and support students at risk of radicalisation, as part of the government’s plans to counter extremism. A union representing college and university lecturers said that it feared for freedom of speech.

The updated Prevent duty guidance, scheduled to come into force at UK higher and further education institutions by Monday, September 21, requires establishments to ensure they have proper risk assessment processes for speakers and ensure those espousing extremist views do not go unchallenged; as under section 29 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. The guidance also sets out that institutions must ensure that they have appropriate IT policies, staff training and student welfare programmes in place to recognise and respond to the signs of radicalisation. The Government says that it’s part of their ‘one nation strategy’ to confront and ultimately defeat the threat of extremism and terrorism. This was top of the agenda at the first Extremism Taskforce meeting of this Parliament chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron.

According to the Government’s new Extremism Analysis Unit, last year at least 70 events featuring hate speakers were held on campuses. Queen Mary, King’s College, SOAS and Kingston University held most events.

That unit was setup to support all government departments and the wider public sector to understand extremism so they can deal with extremists ‘appropriately’. The Government points to latest police statistics that young people continue to make up a disproportionately high number of those arrested for terrorist-related offences and of those travelling to join terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq.

David Cameron said: “I said in July that tackling extremism will be the struggle of our generation, one which we will defeat if we work together. All public institutions have a role to play in rooting out and challenging extremism. It is not about oppressing free speech or stifling academic freedom, it is about making sure that radical views and ideas are not given the oxygen they need to flourish. Schools, universities and colleges, more than anywhere else, have a duty to protect impressionable young minds and ensure that our young people are given every opportunity to reach their potential. That is what our one nation government is focused on delivering.”

The Universities Minister Jo Johnson has written to the National Union of Students (NUS) to remind them of their responsibilities in preventing radicalisation and challenging speakers. In the letter he says: “Universities represent an important arena for challenging extremist views. It is important there can be active challenge and debate on issues relating to counter terrorism and provisions for academic freedom are part of the Prevent guidance for universities and colleges. It is my firm view that we all have a role to play in challenging extremist ideologies and protecting students on campus. Ultimately, the Prevent strategy is about protecting people from radicalisation. It is therefore disappointing to see overt opposition to the Prevent programme…The legal duty that will be placed on universities and colleges highlights the importance that the government places on this.

The Business Secretary has also instructed the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), as the lead regulator for higher education in England, to monitor universities. Continued failure to comply could ultimately result in a court order.

The University and College Union (UCU) warned of mistrust between lecturers and students. The union’s general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘The best response to acts of terror is to retain our universities and colleges as open democratic spaces, rather than close down debate and create mistrust between teacher and student, which is what these plans risk doing. Universities and colleges have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their students and staff and not to allow activities which are intended to foment hatred or violence, or support for unlawful activities such as terrorism. However, universities and colleges rightly cherish, and must continue to promote, academic freedom as a key tenet of our civilised society. It is essential to our democracy and right to freedom of speech that views are open to debate and challenge within the law.’

Picture by Mark Rowe: Loughborough University.


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