The government has clarified that the legal duty for public bodies to “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism” will apply to universities from 21st September.
This will put a legal requirement on institutions to have policies in place to challenge on-campus radicalisation, including at extremist events.
Guidance provided by the government:
“…requires establishments…ensure they have proper risk assessment processes for speakers and ensure those espousing extremist views do not go unchallenged.”
In a statement the Prime Minister said that this:
“…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.”
This is echoed in the guidance, which encourages universities to manage the risk posed by extremist speakers by ensuring they “are challenged with opposing views as part of that same event”.
The Prime Minister will also chair a meeting of the Extremism Taskforce which will address this issue, while Universities Minister Jo Johnson has written to the National Union of Students (NUS).
In this letter he states: “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.”
He criticises the NUS for its opposition to Prevent, saying that: “It is…disappointing to see overt opposition to the Prevent programme.”
Johnson also highlights how false claims made about Prevent by NUS officers are divisive – something detailed in Student Rights’ report ‘Preventing Prevent? Challenges to Counter-Radicalisation Policy on Campus’.
In response to these claims, the NUS has said:
“Criticism and debate is at the heart of the policy-making process…we would encourage Government to listen and reflect on the legitimate concerns that exist to their agenda, rather than attacking organisations for simply not agreeing with their approach.”
However, this ignores the fact that, rather than “simply not agreeing” with Prevent, the NUS has actively worked to undermine the policy – spreading misleading information on numerous occasions.
This echoes other NUS arguments, including that Prevent is part of an attempt to “attack Muslim and Muslim-background people” and is “attempting to monitor and control Muslim students”.
These divisive claims, which too often parrot extremist narratives, go far beyond simple disagreement and it is encouraging to see the government highlight this.
Here at Student Rights we also welcome the new guidance for universities, and hope that it will provide institutions with the tools needed to effectively manage extremism on their campuses.