Staff must 'identify' extremism

October 20, 2006

State guidance asks academics to monitor student activity and 'ask for help'. Claire Sanders reports

Special Branch is to offer training to academics on how to "recognise and respond to potential violent extremism", the Government's latest draft guidance on Islamic extremism says.

The guidance, which has been seen by The Times Higher and updates versions published in the press earlier this week, says every university would have dedicated local Special Branch contacts who would be available to train staff.

The guidance is clear that Muslim extremists operate on campuses and that universities and their staff have a role to play in monitoring and reporting actual and potential extremist activity.

Bill Rammell, Higher Education Minister, refused to be drawn on the more recent guidance but he insisted that earlier reports claiming that the Government was asking academics to spy on students were "wide of the mark".

He said: "They bear no relation to anything that I or other ministers have authorised."

But the latest guidance says: "It is important for the police (and wider community) to have confidence that a local university can recognise if it has a problem and ask for help. To assess this capability it may be useful for HEIs to consider the following questions:

"Can staff identify extremist behaviour or radicalisation?

"Do they have the confidence to report it within the university?

"Does your university have the processes in place, and the willingness, to get that information to the police?"

Drummond Bone, president of Universities UK, said: "There are dangers in targeting one particular group within our diverse communities of students and staff. Not only is this unreasonable but it could be counterproductive."

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Equality Challenge Unit, said that guidance that recommends discriminatory treatment "has no place in campus life".

Paul Mackney, joint general secretary of the University and College Union, said that the guidance risked blurring the line between radicalisation and terrorism.

"The state cannot expect academics to monitor what Muslims say in seminars or download in libraries," he said.

Gemma Tumelty, president of the National Union of Students, welcomed recommendations for an open dialogue between Islamic and other student societies.

But she said: "Treating any one section of the student community with such mistrust alienates and stigmatises the community and may damage the free flow of dialogue between that community and others. "

The guidance did garner some support.

Anthony Glees, director of Brunel University's Centre for Intelligence and Security and author of When Students Turn to Terror , said: "Universities have had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to act on this. There are far too many opportunities for extremists to act on campus."

claire.sanders@thes.co.uk

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