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New regulator seeking more data on Prevent

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Chris Lindsay, Director of Governance and Compliance at the University, updated students and staff on 31 October about changes to the implementation of the counter-terrorism duty Prevent.

A new regulator, the Office for Students (OfS), which replaced the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) on 1 April of this year, are asking for more data and information from higher education institutions and evidence of ‘active implementation’ by the University. In practice, this means that more information is being provided about which staff have and haven’t received Prevent training, and that the precise number of students being referred to Prevent is now being asked for.

Prevent is one of four elements of the government’s broader counter-terrorism strategy known as CONTEST

Lindsay also highlighted that Exeter’s Prevent programme is now more closely linked to the university’s wellbeing and safeguarding teams. Prevent is one of four elements of the government’s broader counter-terrorism strategy known as CONTEST, and seeks to de-radicalise people at risk of further radicalisation and terrorist activities. Under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, it places a duty on higher education institutions to have ‘‘due regard to the need to prevent individuals from being drawn in to terrorism.’’

The event also featured presentations by Abu Ahmed, Head of Counter terrorism Communications at the Home Office, Andy Ferris from the Southwest Counter terrorism Unit followed by a question and answer session.

The presentations by Abu Ahmed and Andy Ferris focused on the broader national context surrounding Prevent. Ahmed acknowledged that Prevent is not universally popular and has been criticised by some for allegedly stigmatising Muslim communities. He claimed there has not historically been enough data provided by the programme, and that this needs to change. Both Abu Ahmed and Andy Ferris pointed out that the programme also seeks to prevent far-right terrorism, with Ferris adding that, in Devon, far-right referrals exceed referrals related to Islamist extremism.

In response to a question about the Students’ Guild’s non-compliance with Prevent, Lindsay stated that the University works closely with the Guild executive management and see risk assessments, adding that the OfS will press harder for student participation on Prevent and that closer co-operation may be ‘a matter of time.’ The idea, which labelled Prevent as a ‘discriminatory’ programme ‘based on racial profiling’, was voted on by 205 students, with 71 per cent of those voting for the idea in 2015.

“I think today’s event was really valuable, and it was great to hear from the police and the Home Office.”

– Mike Shore-Nye, Registrar and Secretary of University of Exeter

Attendees also raised concerns that there was insufficient evidence to suggest that Prevent does reduce radicalisation, and that it would not always be clear what student behaviour would be most effectively dealt with through a Prevent referral.
Mike Shore-Nye, Registrar and Secretary, told Exeposé: “I think today’s event was really valuable, and it was great to hear from the police and the Home Office. I think it helped de-mystify our Prevent duty more, and reiterated the importance of safeguarding.”

‘”I think that some of our questions from colleagues were really, really useful because they highlighted the potential misconceptions and potential concerns, and what we’re trying to do is provide reassurance so that this is something that we can work on together. I think these events are really helpful and it certainly helps frame our thinking and we need to continue to build on them in the future.’”

“We welcome student involvement in helping shape what this looks like.”

– Grace Frain, Guild President of Exeter Students’ Guild

Grace Frain, Guild President, told Exeposé: ‘‘The Students’ Guild continues to monitor the Prevent agenda, the University’s actions in relation to it and any changes in our obligations towards it. We welcome student involvement in helping shape what this looks like.’’

(Originally published 12/11/2018)

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