Recently all across higher education there has been a lot of talk about a piece of legislation called the Prevent Duty.
I’m going to explain the reasoning behind the strong opposition to this across the student movement, how we’re dealing with it at Bristol SU and what it will practically mean for students.
The Prevent strategy, which was published by the Government in 2011, is part of the overall counter-terrorism strategy in the UK. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act (2015) has made Prevent statutory for our Universities.
There are three specific aims of the Prevent strategy:
To respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat we face from those who promote it;
To prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and ensure that they are given appropriate advice and support; and
To work with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation that we need to address. (1)
The anger many people feel toward this legislation comes from the fact that University staff across the country will have to start looking for signs of radicalisation in students (defined and listed below), and that through the Prevent strategy universities will be legally responsible for the ideologies of their students (2). This may stop students learning about certain topics from academics at the university and may stop students accessing mental health services. Most importantly it may also push extremist ideologies to the fringes where they cannot be challenged, creating a greater danger for them to manifest in society.
According to the Prevent strategy indicators of radicalisation include:
“A need for identity, meaning and belonging.”
“A desire for political or moral change.”
“Relevant mental health issues.”
A great many people both within and outside the student movement have spoken out against this, predicting that an atmosphere of suspicion and surveillance will develop on campus and pointing to the limitation this might have on freedom of speech. Bristol students along with the NUS and other SUs such as Goldsmiths SU & SOAS SU agree!
At the Annual Member’s Meeting in February 2015 a motion was put forward called ‘Students not suspects’ and was passed formally at the last student council meeting of the year, which mandated us to not engage with Prevent. Here at Bristol SU we have been doing everything we can to make sure that we are following the actions set out for us by that motion whilst also complying with the law.
Although students’ unions do not have to officially engage directly with Prevent, the University will have to and unfortunately, because we use their building and our societies use their rooms, we may become involved.
We are still waiting on further guidance about how to minimise the damaging effects of Prevent, but in the meantime we are:
Working with UCU to organise an event that condemns Prevent (12 October, 6pm, Arts Complex, LT3)
Working with the university to make sure they are being open and transparent about how they are engaging with Prevent.
Publically stating that we will campaign against any negative effects this might have on our members
If you have any more questions about the prevent strategy and how it may affect you, come along on to the event on 12 October.