University issues statement on how it plans to implement Prevent Duty in “sensible” way

The statement outlines the University’s commitment to ensuring that free speech and academic freedom are not violated

Hes Hall University Registrar and Secretary David Duncan has produced exclusively for this paper a statement on how the University of York is attempting to implement its responsibilities under the government’s Prevent Duty. Prevent is a statutory duty placed on schools, higher education institutes and other public bodies to identify individuals who may be at risk of being radicalised and subsequently drawn into terrorism.

The Duty is receiving criticism from those who believe that it enables everyday surveillance and racial profiling; York lecturer Katy Sian recently described Prevent as “embedded Islamophobia” to Nouse.

The University’s move to make public its planned implementation of Prevent follows concerns raised by York’s Islamic Society that the Duty is creating a “very hostile environment” on campus. The below statement highlights the University’s plans to implement the Prevent Duty in a “sensible, proportionate way”, safeguarding individuals and “avoiding stigmatising any particular group”. The statement also includes a paragraph on the impact the Prevent Duty could have on “events and speakers” on campus; one of the four main priorities is “to ensure that free speech and academic freedom are not violated”.

The full statement can be read below.

“Counter-Terrorism & Security Act (2015) and the Prevent Agenda

Parliament passed the Counter-Terrorism & Security Act in 2015.  The Act builds on past efforts to enhance national security in response to a perceived threat from terrorism.

Since the Act was published, the Home Office has issued statutory guidance for universities.  The broad requirement is to implement the ‘Prevent Duty’ – that is, to help prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. 

In response to this, we have developed a policy, which was approved by Council (the University’s governing body) on 26 February.  This sets out how we will address our legal obligations.

Our aim is to implement the duty in a sensible, proportionate way.  We have four main priorities:

  • To meet our legal obligations under the Act
  • To do what we can to safeguard anyone who is at risk of being drawn into violent extremism and terrorism
  • To avoid stigmatising any particular group and reassure them about our approach
  • To ensure that free speech and academic freedom are not violated

 Safeguarding individuals

The main focus of the Prevent Duty is on preventing people from being drawn into violent extremism.  We are expected to raise awareness of the signs of radicalisation which might be a prelude to violent extremism.  Our approach has been to revise our safeguarding policy, which is aimed at protecting individuals.  As part of this, we will make clear to staff what they should do if they have concerns about an individual.

Events and speakers

While we are required to put in place policies for the management of events on campus, the Act also insists that we ‘ensure freedom of speech’.

Again, we are taking a balanced approach.  We undertake risk assessments on visiting speakers, often in collaboration with YUSU.  Under Regulation 10, we can exercise various controls over events; in recent times, we have never prohibited events, but we have occasionally briefed and monitored speakers, and on one occasion we have required a society to provide stewards and issue tickets for an event.  We have also monitored demonstrations and have sought to ensure that these do not hinder events from taking place. 

Use of the Internet and IT network

We are expected to put in place clear policies and procedures for use of IT equipment on campus.  If the Government identifies websites advocating violent extremism which they regard as illegal (as they do for child pornography), we will block access to them.  We do not intend to block access to sites which are legal.

Next steps

 We have already provided training for key contacts across the University.  We have also made available via the VLE a basic awareness raising package developed by the Police.  The Higher Education Funding Council is working on additional materials which we will make available shortly.

If anyone has concerns about the Prevent Duty, they are welcome to get in touch with me or one of the other Prevent contacts – Denis Fowler (Health & Safety) or Professor Chris Kyriacou (Education Department).”

 

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