Guidance on campus extremists draws fire

November 24, 2006

The Government's guidelines on tackling violent extremism on campus have been strongly criticised by academics despite being "toned down" after uproar over an earlier draft of the document leaked to The Times Higher , writes Tony Tysome.

The guidelines include tips on recognising the conditions under which extremist activity can develop in a university environment and present possible scenarios in which academic staff might need to consider reporting such activities.

Ministers had ordered sections of the document to be rewritten after a leaked draft was criticised by Islamic and student groups because it encouraged university staff to report concerns about "Asian-looking" or Muslim students.

The new paper, published last Friday, says the Government is concerned only with recognising and tackling forms of violent extremist behaviour, "not with targeting or monitoring particular individuals or groups of individuals".

Academic and student union leaders, while welcoming the changes, warned that the paper still ran the risk of "demonising" Muslims and creating a climate of Islamophobia in universities.

Paul Mackney, University and College Union joint general-secretary, said:

"The tone has improved, but the document still seems to be implying that segregation of certain groups on campus leads to radicalism, and that this then leads to violent extremism. We do not accept that thesis."

Staff union leaders were "very concerned" about some of the examples contained in the document. One details how staff can become involved in detecting extremist activity by looking for extremist literature lying around or checking up on what students are looking at on the internet.

Mr Mackney said: "Advice on countering terrorist activity does not need a great long document. All we need is something that says that if a member of staff hears that violence is being planned, then they should know who to report this to."

Universities UK welcomed the paper, but added that it was up to individual institutions to decide whether to act on its recommendations.

Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, said the guidance was drawn up in recognition of evidence of "serious, but not widespread", Islamist extremist activity in higher education institutions.

He added: "The guidance is not about targeting a particular community. It is about promoting safety within higher education institutions and the wider community and about higher education providers taking their responsibilities for the safety of their staff and students very seriously."

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