Prevent faces growing university opposition

The government’s counter-terrorism strategy is facing opposition on university campuses over concerns it is discriminatory and encourages spying. Student groups and lecturers have moved to distance themselves from Prevent, a Home Office initiative that aims to combat violent extremism, after being asked to report Muslim students deemed vulnerable to radicalisation.

The National Union of Students (NUS) is expected to table a motion at its conference next month condemning as “totally unacceptable” approaches by Prevent officers asking for details of student Islamic society members.

The motion, a draft of which has been seen by the Guardian, will call on delegates from across Britain to “stand in solidarity with those negatively affected by Prevent”. It adds: “The language, concepts and unspecific terms of definition used in the Prevent strategy are unhelpfully generalist and in some cases problematic, and could well be open to discriminatory interpretations.”

The £60m strategy is facing rising resistance on campuses across the country, with a growing list of university unions – including those at Warwick, Manchester Metropolitan and Goldsmiths – saying they have declined offers to work in partnership with it.

A London-wide student manifesto calling for Prevent to be “reviewed extensively” has been authored by union representatives from King’s College, the London School of Economics, University of the Arts London, Queen Mary and Imperial College.

There is equal unease among university staff, some of whom have been offered training in how to detect and report warning signs that a student is a potential extremist.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said it was concerned that, despite far-right groups being identified as a possible threat, Muslims continued to be singled out as part of the strategy, predominantly targeted at combating Islamist extremism associated with or influenced by al-Qaida.

“We’re happy with information and awareness raising; what we’re not happy with is the idea that teachers and lecturers are going to be trained to monitor a specific ethnic group,” said Norman Crowther, an ATL spokesman.

Guardian, 17 March 2012