Backed by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), the Black Students’ campaign and civil rights group, Defend the Right to Protest, as well as the University and College Union (UCU) and the National Union of Students (NUS), announced a boycott of the Government’s Counter-Terror strategy to monitor students.
The NUS announced its launch of The Students not Suspects tour on September 2. The tour visited London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Swansea in opposition to Section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, better known as Prevent, which states that particular bodies, including educational institutions, must “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.”
UCU has too expressed concern over the “chilling effect” that Prevent has had on academic freedom and debate, as well as its “vague and not achievable” legal duty on institutions and staff. It has issued guidance to members, saying it will support boycotts of the legislation.
According to guidance published on July 16, “The legal duties the act heaped on public bodies, including higher education establishments, include recognising, sharing information about and reporting students suspected of being “a risk of being drawn into terrorism”.
NUS Vice President, Shelly Asquith, said that although the legislative changes apply to universities and not student unions they have created a “level of expectation that student unions will sign up to whatever colleges or universities say.”
The guidance says student unions are expected to work closely with their institutions, cooperate with their policies and consider Prevent awareness training.
Asquith said Prevent has affected freedom of expression on campuses. NUS members have reported being asked by police to get training so they can spot students at risk of radicalisation and being asked for names of members of Islamic societies, she said.
Asquith said she feared racial profiling and Islamophobia would get worse under the new rules.
NUS’s Black Students Officer, Malia Bouattia, said: “In bringing their battle ‘for hearts and minds’ – and against dissent – to spaces of education with the new act, the Government is inviting to our campuses the same brutality that plagues black and Muslim people at the hands of the police and state in wider society.
“After decades of racist laws and abuse, it is time students alongside their communities finally fought back.”
A UCU spokesperson said it also was work “for the repeal of this iniquitous legislation”.
The spokesperson added that the UCU was working “to monitor the implementation of Prevent in all further education and higher education institutions and we will support any branch that decides to formally boycott the process.”
FOSIS Vice-President of student affairs, Yusuf Hassan, said student unions are being placed in a difficult position. “Terms such as radicalisation have not been defined or quantified. It is open to interpretation, leaving us in a difficult situation,” Hassan said.
He added: “It is not, nor should it be within the ability of a student or lecturer to report on extremism or people showing signs of it. It is not just about suspects for the police but suspects to your friends because of this dynamic.”