Students protest Prevent at the University of Salford salford su

‘Prevent’, the government’s counter-radicalisation programme, has long been the subject of some controversy, and this has only escalated since universities were given new legal duties to combat extremism on campuses in September last year.

The National Union of Students (NUS) has been vocal in its opposition to the measures, and passed a motion resolving to “publicly oppose” the Counter Terrorism and Security Act at its 2015 national conference. It also declared that NUS officers “will not engage with the Prevent strategy”.

“Any expectation by the state for academic staff to be involved in monitoring their students is deeply worrying and could have a chilling effect on relations between staff and students. We fundamentally believe that universities and colleges are places for education, not surveillance”, it continued.

There was further outcry in December when a Politics student at the University of East Anglia (UEA) was questioned by counter-terrorism police after reading pro-ISIS materials online as part of their course.

Students at UEA taking a module entitled “Clash of Fundamentalisms” had been instructed to read passages from an online magazine published by ISIS, but a link to this was later removed from the course materials following the student’s questioning.

Speaking to Concrete, the UEA student newspaper, the university’s Campaigns and Democracy Officer Chris Jarvis said that it was “worrying” that a student studying fundamentalism could not look at ISIS propaganda without being visited by Special Branch.

“[This] confirms our suspicions that the government’s Prevent agenda is quickly turning students into suspects.”

“If we’re not careful, the Prevent strategy could end up preventing the wrong thing – learning about, critiquing and ultimately defeating terrorism – and could lead to the criminalisation of study”, he continued.

There was further controversy surrounding Prevent in February, when the UK’s terror watchdog called for an independent review of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy.

David Anderson Q.C., an Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, raised his concern that elements of the Prevent strategy were “ineffective or being applied in an insensitive or discriminatory manner”.

“[T]he lack of confidence in aspects of the Prevent programme, particularly but not exclusively among Muslims, is undeniable”, he stated.

In response, the Students Not Suspects Campaign, organised by the NUS and its Black Student’s Campaign to “campaign against this discriminatory Prevent duty and to achieve its repeal”, published an open letter containing an “urgent call” for the legislation’s repeal.

The letter, which has over 400 signatories, including academics from around the world, accused Prevent of “undermining the very ethos and relationships of mutual trust and openness that are fundamental to education and our public services whilst endangering other legal rights and protections.”

This was followed by a debate at the Association of University Administrators’ (AUA) annual conference last month, in which delegates voted roughly two to one in support of the motion that the duties implemented by Prevent “endanger freedom of expression and contribute to a long-term decline in academic liberty”.