Prevent duty guidance for the Higher Education sector

As announced by the Universities Minister, HEIs statutory duty to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism came into effect on 21 September…

As announced by the Universities Minister in March 2015 and reiterated in July 2015, HEIs statutory duty to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism came into effect on Monday 21 September 2015.

By way of remainder, section 26(1) of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 creates a duty on universities to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. Institutions concerned by the duty are listed in Schedule 6 of the Act and can be divided into two categories:

  • The governing body of qualifying institutions within the meaning given by section 11 of the Higher Education Act 2004, and
  • Private higher education institutions that are not in receipt of public funding from the HEFCE* or the HEFCW** but have similar characteristics to those that are.

This article aims at summarising the expectations and recommendations provided in the guidance.

Although the government does not anticipate that compliance with the duty will bring additional burdens on institutions, such compliance requires thought through policies and procedures to be in place. The guidance identifies eight areas in which universities are expected to take measures:

External speakers and events

Universities should have policies relating to the management of events on campus and use of premises that clearly state what is expected for an event to take place. These policies should equally apply to students, staff members and visitors.

It is paramount that universities balance this duty with their obligation to ensure freedom of speech and academic freedom. As such universities are advised to refer to the UUK’s guidance published in 2013.

When institutions are deciding on whether to host a speaker they should pay particular attention to the views being expressed, or likely to be expressed, by considering whether they convey extremist views which may result in drawing people into terrorism. In such circumstances, the event should not proceed unless the risk can be fully mitigated by challenging the speaker with extremist views with someone holding opposing opinions as part of the same event.

The government also expects universities to undertake a risk-based assessment as to whether an event should be held on campus or at any other affiliated locations.

In addition, the guidance requires  institutions to give regard to their existing responsibilities concerning gender segregation and refers universities to the guidance produced in 2015 by the Equality and Human Right Commission.

In order to prevent radicalised students from perpetrating radicalisation, universities should ensure that they have the necessary staff training, IT polices and student welfare programmes to identify these students and respond adequately.


It is expected that senior management staff will co-operate with other partners such as the police, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Prevent co-ordinators.

Risk assessment

Universities are expected to carry out risk assessment to evaluate where and how their students might be at risk of being drawn into terrorism, which includes both violent and non-violent forms of terrorism. Such risk assessment should examine institutional policies regarding student and staff welfare, campuses, the physical management of the university estate and policies about holding events.

Action plan

Universities must have a Prevent action plan in place to mitigate risks.

Staff training

Universities must show their willingness to comply with the statutory duty by undertaking Prevent awareness training to assist staff members in their responsibilities to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. Moreover, institutions should have strong internal and external policies for sharing information about vulnerable individuals.

Welfare and pastoral care/chaplaincy support

The guidance recommends that universities have sufficient chaplaincy and pastoral support available for students as well as clear and widely available policies for the use of faith-related facilities.

IT policies

Universities should make specific references to the statutory duty in their IT policies and provide clear guidance for students and staff working on sensitive or extremist-related research.

Students unions and societies

Students unions and societies should have unambiguous policies in regards to the activities that are or are not allowed on campus and online. The policies should precise what is expected from student unions and societies and explicitly state the need to combat extremist views.

Lastly, an appropriate body will be created to assess the manner institutions comply with the Prevent Duty and a separate monitoring framework will be published to this effect. The Act gives power to the Secretary of State to issue a court order in case a university would not comply with its statutory duty.

Read the full text of the Prevent Duty Guidance: for Higher Education institutions in England and Wales.


*Higher Education Funding Council for England

** Higher Education Funding Council for Wales

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