The Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 was introduced as a response to the increasing levels of radicalisation amongst the UK population. This aims to engage authorities across a range of sectors in the fight against terrorism. Part 5 of the Act creates a duty for specified bodies to have due regard, when exercising their functions, to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.
Higher education institutions were intended to be caught by the legislation, but the imposition of obligations on them was suspended until the Home Office could issue guidance dealing with the conflict between (i) the need to protect academic freedom and promote freedom of speech amongst staff, students and speakers; and (ii) the newly imposed duties to prevent people being drawn into terrorism. Since the Government issued the guidance in September 2015, higher education institutions are now under a duty to comply with the Act, and the current media attention on students travelling to Syria and Iraq provide a timely reminder of the dangers that the legislation is aimed to prevent.
Under section 26(1) each Relevant Higher Education Bodies (see below) “must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism”. But when carrying out this, each higher education institution must have particular regard to the duty to ensure freedom of speech and to the importance of academic freedom.
For these purposes a “Relevant Higher Education Body” will include:
- a higher education provider funded directly by HEFCE;
- an alternative provider with specific-course designation by Government for the purposes of English student support funding;
- any other provider which provide higher education to more than 250 students (including international students in the United Kingdom) on higher education courses (but excluding students on distance learning courses or on designated further education courses); and
- the autonomous colleges, schools and halls of the University of Cambridge, the University of Durham and the University of Oxford.
The guidance makes clear that the Government does not intend to introduce burdensome new rules and regulations and describe the obligations as ‘proportionate and risk-based’. Whilst this would seem to provide some latitude, the guidance sets out various steps that should be taken to ensure that higher education institutions do not provide a platform for extremists to operate and radicalise students.
Higher education institutions should appoint a single contact for operational delivery of Prevent-related activities and the oversight of strategy. They should put in place mechanisms for understanding the risk of radicalisation as well as ensuring that staff understand the risks and build capabilities to deal with it. It is also important that higher education institutions promote the importance of compliance through internal communications and take steps to ensure that staff implement the strategy effectively.
Higher education institutions are encouraged to co-operate at senior level with relevant partners (e.g. BIS Prevent Coordinators, the police, the local authority) and ensure that the students’ union does the same.
- Capabilities and Staff Training
Relevant staff should receive Prevent awareness training so they understand:
- what radicalisation means;
- why people may be drawn to terrorism;
- What is meant by extremism;
- What measures are available to prevent people being drawn into terrorism and how to challenge extremist ideology; and
- How to obtain support for people at risk of radicalisation.
- Sharing information
It may become necessary to share personal data about staff or students to enable people at risk to receive appropriate support. Higher education institutions should put in place effective data sharing agreements locally and refer illegal activity to the police.
- External speakers and events
Higher education institutions should put in place policies and procedures for managing events on campus and the use of their premises. Universities UK has produced useful guidance on hosting external speakers.
- Risk assessment
It is important that higher education institutions carry out a risk assessment examining where and how students might be at risk of being drawn into terrorism or extremism.
- Action plan
Higher education institutions should then develop an action plan to set out what actions will be taken to mitigate risks identified in risk assessment.
- Welfare and pastoral care
Having regard to the particular demographics and needs of the students, higher education institutions should ensure that there is sufficient chaplaincy and pastoral support for students. They should also put in place a policy for use of prayer rooms and other faith facilities.
- IT policies
It is important to review the IT policy and ensure it refers to the Prevent Duty. This will also involve reviewing the filters to potentially restrict access to harmful content as well as the policies and procedures for staff and students to working on sensitive research.
- Students’ Union
Higher education institutions will be bound by certain requirements in relation to their students’ union under Part 2 of the Education Act 1994. They should review and update policies and code of practice setting out what activities are permitted on university premises and online activity. They should also arrange Prevent Duty training for officers and staff of the Students’ Union.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has been formally appointed to monitor higher education institutions’ compliance with the Prevent Duty but has delegated this to HEFCE. HEFCE published its monitoring framework in November 2015.
- Phase one: initial assessment
By 22 January 2016 higher education institutions should have sent HEFCE a preliminary self-assessment report of its current level of compliance with the Prevent Duty guidance.
During the spring and summer of 2016 higher education institutions will need to submit more detailed documentation about its Prevent risk assessment and its policies and procedures for the topics covered by the Prevent guidance, together with an updated self-assessment report.
- Phase two: ongoing monitoring
Subsequently, higher education institutions will need to submit an annual report demonstrating how they have actively discharged the Prevent Duty. HEFCA will further require a sample of higher education institutions over a five-yearly cycle to submit the latest versions of their ‘Prevent’-related documentation.
HEFCE expects higher education institutions to report all serious incidents relating to the Prevent Duty as they occur.
HEFCE will report to BIS, which may refer cases of concern to the Home Office. The Home Secretary has the power to issue directions to higher education institutions which are not complying with their duty under section 26(1).