Student Rights welcomes Counter-Extremism Strategy

Earlier this week, the Home Secretary outlined a number of new measures to counter extremism which aim to “systematically confront and challenge extremist ideology”.

Student Rights broadly welcomes the new Counter-Extremism Strategy, which identifies extremist activity on UK campuses as a serious problem which must be tackled without damaging freedom of expression.

The strategy reaffirms the government’s commitment to “open debate and the exchange of ideas” which is already enshrined in both legislation and recent Home Office guidance.

However, it also recognises that this freedom can be “abused by extremists”, arguing that:

“We know that some students are and have been influenced by extremist ideology and that some universities have been the focus of attention by extremist speakers.

Closed events without challenge on or off campus are a particular concern, with extremists still able to convene student audiences and promote their ideology without also hearing the views of the mainstream majority. The rhetoric from some of these individuals and groups can be divisive and intolerant, espousing hatred towards others based on their faith, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.”

The strategy also refers to the new statutory Prevent duties, which require universities:

“…to take action to reduce the risk of radicalisation and mitigate fully any risks when deciding whether or not to host a particular speaker, making sure extremist speakers, on or off campus, do not go unchallenged.”

With this requirement now a legal responsibility, it is important universities are given proper guidance and training to make sure they are able to do this in a proportionate and effective way.

We also hope that this focus on ensuring speakers face challenge will win out over the proposals to introduce new and illiberal banning orders which will restrict freedom of expression.

Student Rights has highlighted the problem of extremist speakers appearing on campuses on unchallenged platforms since 2009.

As such, we are pleased that the government joins us in recognising the threat extremist speakers pose to community cohesion and the welfare of individual students.

In combination with the welcome emphasis on tackling extremism by ensuring speakers face challenge at events, this shows that the government is taking the issue of on-campus extremism seriously.

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