Skip to main content

Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015: the HE sector’s duty to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism

Pursuant to the publication of the Prevent duty guidance this week, local authorities will be placed under a new statutory duty from 1 July 2015.

Pursuant to the publication of the prevent duty guidance this week, local authorities will be placed under a new statutory duty from 1 July 2015. Following the enactment in March 2015 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA), local authorities must have "due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism". The purpose of the guidance is to assist local authorities to understand what this means in practice.

The guidance is focused on different types of local authorities and describes, depending on their type, how they can comply with the duty.

Although the guidance encompasses the HE sector; the government intends to continue the debate with regard to FE/HE in an attempt to integrate freedom of speech and compliance with the duty.  Accordingly the guidance will not apply to universities from 1 July 2015, but a later date yet to be announced.

This article describes the guidance for universities as it currently stands and may be subject to subsequent amendments.

According to the guidance, universities must carefully pay attention to extremist views and ideologies as the role of universities is to encourage freedom of speech and the advancement of knowledge through opposing opinions and debates.

The government does not envisage that the implementation of the duty and of the Prevent strategy will lead to new burdens and intends to implement those in a proportionate and risk-based manner. Accordingly, the guidance has identified seven ways of complying with the new statutory duty.

Partnership

The guidance encourages collaboration between senior staff members of HEIs; the police and BIS (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) and universities should have regular contact with Prevent co-ordinators. Universities are advised to provide relevant and appropriate information to students and staff and should consult on proposals to implement any strategy which sets out how the university will carry out the duty its Prevent duties.  Furthermore a single point of contact should be established with the relevant knowledge and understanding in order to answer Prevent-related queries.

Risk assessment

HEIs must conduct a risk assessment in order to ascertain and understand how it might be possible for students to be at risk of being drawn into terrorism. This includes both violent and non-violent forms of terrorism. Such risk assessment should review institutional policies in relation to the campus and student welfare, including equality and diversity and the safety and welfare of students and staff members. Moreover, the guidance states that the risk assessment should examine the physical management of the institution’s facilities, the organisation of events and the way in which external visitors are ‘invited’ onto campus.

Action plan

All universities should develop a Prevent action plan to deal with any arising risks. In doing so, HEIs should seek the support of Prevent co-ordinators.

Staff training

Universities must train their staff adequately to assist them in carrying the statutory duty to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism, identify vulnerable people and be aware of actions to take in response. HEIs are also expected to have strong internal and external procedures to share such information.

Welfare and pastoral care/chaplaincy support

There should be sufficient pastoral and chaplaincy support available to all students.  Universities should also have policies regulating the use of prayer rooms and other faith-related facilities.

IT policies

IT policies covering the use of internet on campuses already establish what is permitted and not permitted. These policies should now include specific references to the new statutory duty. Furthermore, universities should use filters to restrict access to content and prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. However, in order to allow appropriate research and scholarly activity, universities should establish clear policies for staff members and students working on sensitive or extremist-related projects.

Student unions and societies

Universities are expected to have clear policies regarding the internal and external activities of the students unions and societies that are held on campus or online and that are directly or indirectly linked to the university. Such policies should explain unambiguously what is expected from students unions and societies and highlight the need to challenge extremist views. In addition, students unions should also consider whether their staff members and elected members would benefit from receiving training concerning Prevent awareness.

External speaker

Regarding the organisation of external speakers, the government will issue further guidance which should combine the Prevent duty with universities and the values of freedom of speech and academic freedom.

Under CTSA, the Secretary of State will monitor how all local authorities (including universities)  comply with the statutory duty. Local authorities are also expected to maintain accurate records demonstrating compliance.

If the Secretary of State is satisfied that a local authority is failing to comply with the duty, it has the power to issue direction to the authority for the purpose of enforcing the performance of that duty. Further, such direction may be enforced by a mandatory order.

A separate framework will be published to explain how monitoring will take place.

We will report further on the next developments and the date for application of the Guidance to F and HE.