CUSU's offices at 17 Mill LaneLouis Ashworth

CUSU has led the issuing of an open letter, submitted on Wednesday 28th, requesting that Cambridge colleges reconsider the data which they are due to submit to the Prevent programme on 3rd December.

The letter, also co-signed by the Graduate Union EC and 21 college-based student combination rooms at the time of writing, criticises recent regulatory changes to the framework of Prevent as “serious encroachment […] into welfare provision”.

The letter comes less than a fortnight after Varsity reported strained relations between CUSU and the OfS, relating to the use of Prevent.

Prevent is a strand of the UK government’s counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST, which is targeted towards preventing the radicalisation of individuals to extremism. Introduced in 2006, Prevent obliges public bodies, including universities, to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

In practice, this requires public sector organisations to report any individuals who exhibit signs of radicalisation.

In response to the most recent revision to CONTEST, made in June 2018, the Office for Students [OfS] updated its monitoring framework for Prevent in Higher Education. The OfS’s framework now reflects CONTEST’s new emphasis on safeguarding, therefore requiring Prevent to be integrated into welfare support systems.

Colleges and the University are now asked to include welfare support as part of the information shared under the counter-terrorism legislation. Colleges are asked to report the number of welfare cases that they have considered, whether or not they relate to Prevent.

Speaking to Varsity, CUSU Education Officer Matt Kite said that “the reporting is just the number, but the data return will then be used by the OfS to identify institutions that they see as causes for concern”. CUSU are alarmed that this may result in further investigations of colleges, under the banner of Prevent.

Cambridge colleges are already required to collect and report information in a process known as data return, including statistics about staff Prevent training, external speakers and individual Prevent cases. Because colleges are legally separate from the University, compliance with Prevent is their individual responsibility.

The next data return, scheduled for 3rd December, will be the first under this new system and will require Colleges to submit data not only on cases where Prevent-related concerns were raised, but also on welfare cases.

Framed in the context of existing criticism of the Prevent programme for disproportionately targeting minority groups, the letter describes the recent changes as “an unacceptable overreach by the OfS”. The letter further claims that the changes will “reinforce the chilling effect that Prevent is having on free speech and the ability of students to access necessary welfare support”.

There is particular concern that these changes “will worsen welfare provision and dissuade BME and Muslim students from accessing support”.


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The letter asks that the University and its 31 constituent Colleges work to resist the Prevent duty.

In particular, its authors encourage colleges to include all tutorial contact as a welfare case when compiling data for the 3rd December deadline, “rather than singling out […] students who access mental health support or the counselling service”.

Current concerns follow a previous Varsity investigation which highlighted inconsistencies in the use of Prevent across Cambridge colleges.

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