Scottish universities are not set to be subject to the same government rules on preventing “non-violent extremism” as their English and Welsh counterparts.
The government’s Prevent guidance – which sets out the new legal duties on certain organisations to combat terrorism – refers to universities tackling “non-violent extremism” and to “young people” travelling to Syria to join terrorist organisations, but only in the document for England and Wales.
This reveals “the extent of the disagreements between governments and the determination of the Home Office and No 10 to put universities in the frame”, according to Pam Tatlow, the chief executive of the Million+ group of institutions.
The Prevent guidance published last week by the government also omits any significant reference to external speakers at universities, in both the English and Welsh version as well as the Scottish version.
That omission is said to be down to a refusal by Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg and Vince Cable to agree to demands from Prime Minister David Cameron on rules for universities, amid concerns about the potential impact on free speech on campus.
On external speakers, the Prevent guidance says only: “Radicalisation on campus can be facilitated through events held for extremist speakers. 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 new Prevent guidance must still be approved or rejected by Parliament, with the government planning for it to take effect before the end of the month.
The statutory guidance describes itself as being for “specified authorities…on the duty in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.
The England and Wales guidance says that “young people continue to make up a disproportionately high number of those arrested in this country for terrorist-related offences and of those who are travelling to join terrorist organisations in Syria and Iraq. Universities must be vigilant and aware of the risks this poses.”
This reference is omitted from the guidance for Scottish universities.
The England and Wales guidance also 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.”
There is no such reference in the guidance for Scottish universities, although there are references to “non-violent extremism” elsewhere in the Scottish document.
Greg Clark, the universities and science minister, is reported by the Daily Mail to have spoken out in a Cabinet meeting against Home Office plans to ban “extremist” speakers from campus, leading to him being “jumped on” by Mr Cameron.
Mr Clark’s opposition is shared by Vince Cable, the business secretary, who is his colleague in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Ms Tatlow said: “The omission of the speakers section from both sets of guidance…confirms the fallout between BIS and the rest of the government. The inclusion of the reference to non-violent extremism is likely to make it even more difficult to reach agreement on this section in the new Parliament.”
She added: “The reference to young people travelling to Syria, which appears only in the English and Welsh guidance, will raise further questions about the timing and motivation of the Home Office in placing the Prevent guidance on a statutory basis when there has been no substantial criticism of the way that universities are adhering to the Prevent strategy on a voluntary basis.”