In early October, guidance on the Prevent duty (as part of the new Counter Terrorism and Security Act) will be ratified by Parliament. It will mean that schools, colleges and universities are legally obliged to monitor and report on students who may be at risk of ‘violent extremism’.
Prevent has been around for a long time, but this new law now makes it mandatory. It recommends monitoring students who appear ‘withdrawn’ or seeking ‘political change’ (this could be anyone going through a tough time - or with an opinion). With the focus on preventing what the government terms ‘Islamic extremism’, the prospect of racial profiling and state-sponsored Islamophobia is all the worse: Black and Muslim students are bearing the brunt of a reactionary, racist agenda while freedom of speech across the board is curtailed. I believe this is a recipe for ‘extremism’, not a solution.
To give some context, some recent examples of Prevent Officers’ involvement on campuses has seen:
Students and students’ unions have sometimes considered NUS quiet on this issue. I refuse to let that be the case: we must be uncompromising in opposing all forms of repression, and stand firm in our stance; no matter how much flak we take from David Cameron. We must work with university and college staff to oppose Prevent and to allow students to organise politically, free from harassment.
NUS is currently seeking legal advice on the implications for students’ unions and will be communicating that to you as soon as possible. Our policy line is clear though.
Our colleagues in the University and Colleges Union (UCU), which represents academics and lecturers, have passed a similar passed policy and recently published guidance advising branches on how to ballot for a boycott of the duty. This gives us an opportunity to build a stronger, more co-ordinated approach across the sector.
What students and students’ unions can do:
London - Wednesday October 14th
Birmingham - Thursday October 15th
Swansea - Friday October 16th
Manchester - Wednesday October 21st
Glasgow - Thursday October 22nd
Prevent is a sensitive but urgent issue, and one that can be difficult for students’ unions to navigate. Our movement has a proud history of standing up to discrimination - often before others do so. I am confident that we can put up a big, collective fight; send a message to the government that we are students, not suspects; and force this malicious policy off our campuses.
If you have any questions, concerns or ideas, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me: firstname.lastname@example.org or my colleague Malia, NUS’s Black Students’ Officer: email@example.com.