Why I won’t be working with Prevent (and how you can avoid it, too)

Thursday 13-08-2015 - 09:41

If there is anything we need an agenda to prevent right now, it is the Prevent agenda itself. The student movement, with our colleagues in trade unions and campaign groups, must work together to urgently oppose this legislation and its impact on our campuses.


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 It recommends monitoring students who appear ‘withdrawn’ or seeking ‘political change’ (this could be anyone going through a tough time - or with an opinion).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.

NUS will:

  • Not engage with the Prevent strategy.
  • Call for it to be thoroughly reviewed and overhauled.
  • Develop guidelines for Unions on effective non-cooperation.
  • Give support to any staff who face discipline for non-compliance.

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:

  • Speak to students on your campus most at risk from Prevent: the Islamic Society and anti-cuts groups are a good place to start.
  • Join the ‘Preventing Prevent on Campuses’ Facebook group to keep in touch and share updates across the movement.
  • Contact your local UCU branch to set up a meeting and offer your support for a boycott. You can use this model letter as a starting point. If you don’t know who the branch secretary is, you can find a list of regional officers here.
  • SAVE THE DATE for one of our ‘Students not Suspects’ events in October. These are being co-organised by NUS, the Black Students’ Campaign, FOSIS and civil rights organisation Defend the Right to Protest; offering a range of skills-based workshops for tackling surveillance culture on campuses. More information and online registration will be available soon. 

          London - Wednesday October 14th 

          Birmingham - Thursday October 15th

          Swansea - Friday October 16th

          Manchester - Wednesday October 21st

          Glasgow - Thursday October 22nd

  • Pass a policy through your students’ union, mandating officers to not comply with Prevent and share it widely to raise awareness. NUS Black Students‘Campaign have a model motion you can adapt.
  • Find out what your institution’s approach to the duty is and try to influence it: contact the institution’s secretary or registrar, using this model letter. If you don’t get a satisfactory response, you can write a Freedom of Information request to establish what contact your institution already has with Prevent officers.
  • Speak to national organisations. As well as NUS, others are prioritising this issue, such as the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC).
  • Run a campaign. Could ‘preventing Prevent’ be a part of your campaigns plan for the year? Students at Leeds, Manchester and LSE have previously organised on this.

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: shelly.asquith@nus.org.uk or my colleague Malia, NUS’s Black Students’ Officer: malia.bouattia@nus.org.uk.

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