Government statutory guidance for the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 is likely to come in to force in the start of October, and many of the London universities are already prepared to implement the required monitoring of students and events under reinforced PREVENT guidance.
A report from the new ‘Extremism Analysis Unit’ released on 17 September claimed that four; SOAS, Queen Mary, King’s College and Kingston universities had given platforms to what the unit describes as ‘Islamist preachers’. On the day David Cameron told assembled press that “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.”
The UCU has welcomed amendments to the new legislation but in a statement said that “the politicisation of the lawful expression of views is both counter-productive and unnecessary.” The NUS has taken a stronger tone, declaring that they will “not engage with the Prevent strategy” and will instead “Develop guidelines for Unions on effective non-cooperation”.
Universities Minister Jo Johnson replied that “It is disappointing to see overt opposition to the Prevent programme… The legal duty that will be placed on universities and colleges highlights the importance that he government places on this.”
Our own investigations have shown clear preparations for implementing PREVENT duty from our universities. Some, like Imperial, have been complying with the non-binding strategy since February 2010 through its ‘Deterring Terrorist Activities’ group, which meets twice a year and has issued internal guidance with regards to things like booking internal speakers.
Royal Holloway will have a Prevent Co-ordination Group who meet a minimum of four times a year, including the Principal and senior management in order to develop specific policy, “including reviewing chaplaincy and faith support arrangements and IT access and filters”. In an internal document the university council admits that “There is a reluctance on the part of some staff who are in regular contact with students to ‘inform’ on students” but that “The Prevent Duty work will only succeed if we can support cultural change making it not just acceptable but a positive good to do the right thing.”
The University of East London has established a new ‘University Prevent Group,’ and intends on putting staff on mandatory training sessions. They will also be reviewing their web-filtering tools so that any attempts to access ‘extremist’ websites will require specific requests to a ‘University Ethics Committee’.
Queen Mary is looking at implementation, including establishing its own “Channel panel” (the next stage after Prevent) which is involved once a referral has been made and the police are formally involved.
Many other universities seem to be waiting for further information on how they will be monitored; it appears that the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) will ‘monitor the performance’ of universities to see if they comply fully with the legislation. It’s not yet clear whether the appointment of HEFCE means there will be funding as well as legal implications for universities that fail to implement statutory guidance fully.