Press release

PM's Extremism Taskforce: tackling extremism in universities and colleges top of the agenda

A new duty to stop extremists radicalising students on campuses is scheduled to come into force by 21 September 2015.

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  • Jo Johnson writes to NUS to challenge their anti-Prevent agenda
  • Part of government’s one nation strategy, led by the Prime Minister’s Extremism Taskforce, to confront and ultimately defeat extremism

For the first time, universities and colleges in the UK will be legally required to put in place specific policies to stop extremists radicalising students on campuses, tackle gender segregation at events and support students at risk of radicalisation, as part of the government’s plans to counter extremism.

The updated Prevent duty guidance, scheduled to come into force at all UK higher and further education institutions by 21 September, requires establishments to ensure they have proper risk assessment processes for speakers and ensure those espousing extremist views do not go unchallenged. The guidance also sets out that institutions must ensure that they have appropriate IT policies, staff training and student welfare programmes in place to recognise and respond to the signs of radicalisation. This is all part of the government’s one nation strategy to confront and ultimately defeat the threat of extremism and terrorism, top of the agenda today at the first Extremism Taskforce meeting of this Parliament chaired by the Prime Minister.

Last year at least 70 events featuring hate speakers were held on campuses, according to the government’s new Extremism Analysis Unit, established to support all government departments and the wider public sector to understand extremism so they can deal with extremists appropriately. The latest police statistics show that young people continue to make up a disproportionately high number of those arrested for terrorist-related offences and of those travelling to join terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

I said in July that tackling extremism will be the struggle of our generation, one which we will defeat if we work together.

All public institutions have a role to play in rooting out and challenging extremism. It is not about oppressing free speech or stifling academic freedom, it is about making sure that radical views and ideas are not given the oxygen they need to flourish. Schools, universities and colleges, more than anywhere else, have a duty to protect impressionable young minds and ensure that our young people are given every opportunity to reach their potential. That is what our one nation government is focused on delivering.

As part of this work, the Universities Minister Jo Johnson has written to the National Union of Students to remind them of their responsibilities in preventing radicalisation and challenging speakers. In the letter he says :

Universities represent an important arena for challenging extremist views. It is important there can be active challenge and debate on issues relating to counter terrorism and provisions for academic freedom are part of the Prevent guidance for universities and colleges. It is my firm view that we all have a role to play in challenging extremist ideologies and protecting students on campus. Ultimately, the Prevent strategy is about protecting people from radicalisation. It is therefore disappointing to see overt opposition to the Prevent programme…The legal duty that will be placed on universities and colleges highlights the importance that the government places on this.

The Business Secretary has also instructed the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), as the lead regulator for higher education in England, to monitor universities’ implementation and compliance with the duty. Continued failure to comply could ultimately result in a court order.

Notes to editors

The Extremism Analysis Unit (EAU) has been established to support all government departments and the wider public sector to understand extremism so they can deal with extremists appropriately. In 2014 there were at least 70 events involving speakers who are known to have promoted rhetoric that aimed to undermine core British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs, held on university campuses.

Queen Mary, King’s College, SOAS and Kingston University held most events. Events included the hosting of 6 speakers that are on record as expressing views contrary to British values, including Haitham Al-Haddad, Dr Uthman Lateef, Alomgir Ali, Imran Ibn Mansur (aka ‘Dawah Man’), Hamza Tzortis and Dr Salman Butt.

Institutions are already required to pay regard to their existing responsibilities in relation to gender segregation, as outlined in the guidance produced in 2014 by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Prevent Duty Guidance makes it a legal requirement (Section 29 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015). The duty is about protecting people from the poisonous and pernicious influence of extremist ideas that are used to legitimise terrorism.

People committing terrorist-related offences while at a UK university:

  • Erol Incedal, a law student at London South Bank University (LSBU), who was found guilty of possession of a bomb-making manual, in November 2014
  • Afsana Kayum, sentenced in March 2015 to 18 months in jail, for possession of a record containing information useful in the commission of terrorism contrary to the Terrorism Act – Kayum was a law student at the University of East London (UEL) at the time of her arrest

People who have attended a UK university and convicted of their role in terrorism and have likely been at least partially radicalised during their studies:

  • Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, convicted in 2012 of attempted murder and terrorism, after trying to bomb a passenger flight to Detroit in 2009 – during his time at UCL, he had repeatedly contacted extremists who were under MI5 surveillance;
  • Roshonara Choudhry, who tried to assassinate the Labour MP Stephen Timms in May 2010, just weeks after dropping out of KCL because of its work with Israeli institutions and its research centre studying radicalisation

Radicalised foreign fighters who have studied in the UK:

  • Aqsa Mahmood, a radiography student at Glasgow Caledonian University, who dropped out of her course and travelled to Syria in late 2013
  • David Souaan, convicted, in December 2014, of preparing for terrorist acts – Souaan was a student at Birkbeck, University of London when he was arrested in May 2014 as he attempted to travel to Syria for a second time
  • Rashed Amani, believed to have travelled to Syria in March 2014 – Amani had been enrolled on a Business Studies course at Coventry University
  • Zubair Nur, reported to have travelled to Syria in March 2015, after it emerged that Royal Holloway, University of London had contacted his parents to inform them he had not attended lectures since January
Published 17 September 2015