Prevent 'stopping students speaking out in class'

New statutory duties designed to stop the rise of extremism on campus are making students and staff apprehensive, AUA conference hears

March 27, 2016
'Extremism' spelled out in letter blocks on jigsaw

New rules to combat extremism in UK universities are inhibiting students from talking freely in seminars, a conference has been told.

Adrian Lee, an academic quality officer at the University of York, said that his institution was “already having reports of students…feeling apprehensive about what they can and cannot say” in class since new Prevent duties took effect in September.

Speaking in a debate over the impact on campus of new counter-terrorism measures at the Association of University Administrators’ annual conference in Leeds on 22 March, Dr Lee said that universities should do more to clarify guidelines about when students would be reported to authorities over their views.

“Universities need to think about complying with regulations, but also how students understand them,” he said.

Gavin Barber, head of student central at Oxford Brookes University, told the debate how some staff were now apprehensive about approving the potentially controversial titles of master's dissertations.

Many administrators did not feel sufficiently equipped to undertake the specialist task of identifying potential extremists, something normally undertaken by the security services, Mr Barber added.

“I feel no more comfortable asking [staff] to carry out this policy than I would asking them to pilot a helicopter or undertake brain surgery,” he said.

Speaking from the panel, Martin McQuillan, pro vice-chancellor (research) at Kingston University, described Prevent as “badly framed legislation based on moral panic”.

Its implementation relied on having a “proscribed list of speakers that no one is willing to admit exists”, said Professor McQuillan.

However, Dusty Amroliwala, deputy vice-chancellor at the University of East London, said that the Prevent duties were reasonable and universities should be willing to take a position on speakers with bigoted or extreme views seeking to talk on campus.

He also raised the case of an UEL academic who reported their concerns regarding a student who had changed the way they dressed and started talking about travelling to Syria.

“That academic was really concerned about that student not only because of Prevent, but because they wanted something to be done,” said Mr Amroliwala.

Delegates at the AUA conference voted by roughly two to one in support of the debate's motion that Prevent duties "endanger freedom of expression and contribute to a long-term decline in academic liberty".

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Related universities

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Microlight pilot flies with flock of cranes

Reports of UK-based researchers already thinking of moving overseas after Brexit vote

Portrait montage of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage

From Donald Trump to Brexit, John Morgan considers the challenges of a new international political climate