SOAS under pressure to more actively combat radicalisation
Categories: Latest News
Thursday February 22 2018
A recent article notes that the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) is facing increasing pressure from governmental bodies to comply more actively with the requirements and recommendations of the Prevent duty.
SOAS has attracted scorn from right-wing politicians and media for boycotting the Prevent duty – enacted in 2015 for three years, and is currently under debate to be extended for another three years.
The Prevent duty is a legal obligation, introduced by the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, requiring universities (amongst other public institutions) to have “due regard to the need to prevent individuals from being drawn into terrorism”.
As it is a legal duty, the board of trustees of SOAS have over the past years attempted to balance its legal duty to comply with the significant opposition against the Act amongst students and staff members.
A former member of the board defined the university’s approach as an “unofficial policy of non-compliance”.
Prevent is seen by a significant number of students and staff members of SOAS as an infringement of freedom of expression and being perceived as heavily discriminatory against Muslim and other ethnic students.
SOAS Student Union’s co-president for welfare and campaigns, Dimitri Cautain, said: “As a student body, we are well aware that a whole host of policies and surveillance politics are targeting students of colour, refugees, [and] Muslim students, undermining SOAS in its ability to be an educational institution for all its students”.
SOAS’s student union has been attracted scorn in the past from public bodies including the Charity Commission for not complying with the Prevent duty – even though it is not a legal obligation for student unions to do so.
Spokespeople from SOAS’s student union stated that they had been questioned by the commission five times over the past year. The Charity Commission denies that the union is the subject of an official enquiry.
The management body of SOAS has also acknowledged the “considerable external pressure” the university is facing to not just legally comply with the Prevent duty but go beyond the basic legal compliance, as recommended by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).
HEFCE holds responsibility of monitoring how universities implement the Prevent duty.
However, HEFCE has stated that universities should go beyond the basic legal duty and actively take steps to promote good practice in the field.
The framework endorsed by HEFCE states: “alongside the formal processes to monitor providers’ due regard to the Prevent duty, we are also keen to promote an environment of continuous improvement”.
The minutes from SOAS’s executive board meeting in September 2017 noted: “The School’s approach was legally compliant but there was considerable external pressure to consider the HEFCE guidance as part of an Institution‘s legal responsibility. The School’s approach was supported by the Board of Trustees but, given the Government’s continued focus on the counter-terrorism and radicalisation agenda there was an increased risk of the School‘s position being challenged”.
The Prevent duty has attracted criticism by other civil organisations which have criticised its discriminatory nature and the hostile environment that it has produced within classrooms, hospitals and other public spaces.
The NUT voted overwhelmingly to reject PREVENT because it causes “suspicion in the classroom and confusion in the staffroom.” The NUT claims that the best role schools can play in countering extremism is by encouraging discussion, which is in fact inhibited by some aspects of the Prevent strategy.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association, Maina Kiai, said Prevent has “created unease and uncertainty around what can be legitimately discussed in public” and has warned of the possible negative impact, “by dividing, stigmatising and alienating segments of the population, Prevent could end up promoting extremism rather than countering it”.
The Home Office’s document on the impact of the Prevent duty 2015/16 said that referrals from educational institutions accounted for 33% of all referrals – the highest relative to all other sources of referrals. The document also details how more than a third of all referrals under the Prevent duty were dismissed as ‘requiring no further action’, with only 5% of all referrals receiving further intervention.