The UCU strike upholds freedom of expression

A strike by members of the University and Colleges Union over pay and “anti-radicalisation” legislation is looming. Delegates voted overwhelmingly in favour of boycotting the government’s Prevention strategy, which is designed to prevent the radicalisation of students. The union expressed concerns that the plans would “force our members to spy on learners”.

The government’s 2011 report on the strategy states the need to maintain freedom of expression. However, the term “extremist” is relative – one person’s conception of extreme is not the same as another’s. Therefore, the report’s pledge to train staff to identify signs of extremism becomes ridiculous. Students may feel uncomfortable consulting with staff while aware that they may be being examined for signs of extremism. The UCU’s decision to boycott such action is crucial because students worrying about being judged by staff for their comments and/or political and religious views is not conducive to the open and welcoming environment that university should promote.

The report mentions how “extremist preachers” have reached out to “Muslim students”. The focus on “ Muslim students” is a dangerous one. Terror acts are not exclusive to one religious or political group, and such an emphasis encourages prejudices and discrimination.

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