Universities must assess risk of students becoming terrorists, says Home Office

‘Prevent’ guidance clarifies new legal duty on institutions to help tackle radicalisation

March 12, 2015

Universities will be expected to carry out risk assessments on the chances of students being drawn into terrorism and “extremism”, as well as to train staff in how to “challenge extremist ideas”.

The Home Office has today published new guidance on its “Prevent” strategy on tackling terrorism, which says of radicalised students: “Changes in behaviour and outlook may be visible to university staff.”  

It adds that there is a need for universities “to have the necessary staff training, IT policies and student welfare programmes to recognise these signs and respond appropriately”.

The publication of the new Prevent guidance – which comes on the same day Times Higher Education revealed the contents of the University of Greenwich’s report on a former student who went on to murder British soldier Lee Rigby - follows a consultation carried out alongside the passage of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act through Parliament.

Universities are among the “specified authorities” placed under a duty by the Act to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

Universities had raised concerns about the impact of the Act on freedom of speech on campus, particularly with regard for the new duty to consider government guidance when deciding who may speak on campus.

The new guidance, which covers institutions with direct public funding and private higher education institutions, addresses this matter only by saying: “There will be further guidance issued on the management of external speakers and events, including on the interaction of the Prevent duty with universities’ existing duties to secure freedom of speech and have regard to the importance of academic freedom.”

The guidance adds that “managing the risk of radicalisation in universities is not simply about managing external speakers”.   

There is one set of guidance for England and Wales, and another for Scotland. The guidance on higher education is broadly similar for Scotland.

On risk assessments, the guidance for England and Wales says: “Universities will be expected to carry out a risk assessment for their institution which assesses where and how their students might be at risk of being drawn into terrorism. This includes not just violent extremism but also non-violent extremism, which can create an atmosphere conducive to terrorism and can popularise views which terrorists exploit.”

It adds that “any institution that identifies a risk should develop a Prevent action plan to institution to set out the actions they will take to mitigate this risk”.

And the guidance continues: “Compliance with the duty will also require the institution to demonstrate that it is willing to undertake Prevent awareness training and other training that could help the relevant staff prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and challenge extremist ideas which risk drawing people into terrorism.

“We would expect appropriate members of staff to have an understanding of the factors that make people support terrorist ideologies or engage in terrorist-related activity. Such staff should have sufficient training to be able to recognise vulnerability to being drawn into terrorism, and be aware of what action to take to take in response.”

john.morgan@tesglobal.com

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