Officers implementing the Government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy visited Goldsmiths Student Union last week to discuss ways of identifying students who might be vulnerable to ‘radicalisation’. A recent Government report suggested there may be 40 English universities where there is a “particular risk” of radicalisation.
James Haywood, president of Goldsmiths college students’ union, told ELL that two Prevent officials, one from the council and the other from the local police, had visited. The officers said that Lewisham was being targeted as a “priority borough’ and that this would allow the student union to apply for funding for ‘inter-faith activity’ but that they would also want student union staff to report students considered at risk of radicalisation.
The officers handed over a document with advice on how to spot a potentially vulnerable student. They were told to look out for those exhibiting: “anger at foreign policy; depression or estrangement from their families.” Information should then be passed on to Prevent who would: “assemble a panel to look into it”.
The panel would be likely to include a detective from Scotland Yard and a personal tutor or welfare officer from Goldsmiths. The targeted student would not at this stage be informed.
Haywood said that they had explained that Student Union Welfare officers have a duty of confidentiality which they would not break.
Haywood told the Guardian: “We were appalled to have Prevent officers asking us to effectively spy on our Muslim students. To pass on details of a student who the police consider ‘vulnerable’ is not only morally repugnant but is against the confidential nature of pastoral support. After the rise of hate groups such as the English Defence League, and the recent massacre in Norway, why are Prevent not also telling us to refer on students who have an irrational hatred of Islam?” he said.
Des Freedman, secretary of the Goldsmiths, lecturer’s union, the UCU said: “It appears that only Muslim students are to be targeted under the Prevent programme. Not only is this deeply discriminatory but it radically alters the relationship between staff and students. We take our pastoral responsibilities very seriously but spying is not in our job description as far as I am aware.”
The Home Office defended the policy of targeting students. “The Prevent programme is about stopping people being drawn into terrorism. We all have an interest in that and we expect universities and colleges to play a full and constructive role in that aim.
“The new Prevent strategy helps universities and colleges fulfil their duty of care to their students. The government has not received any representations from educational institutions saying they will not take part.”
A spokesperson for Lewisham Council said: “Whatever their age, some people especially those far from home or family, can be susceptible to the ideas of others, which they might not otherwise entertain. This programme is about preventing vulnerable people from being drawn into extremist activity, by expanding programmes to identify who they are and then to provide them with support.”