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The Prevent Duty: a threat to academic freedom and civil liberties

UCU National President Liz Lawrence leads an open discussion of the Government’s new ‘Prevent Duty’ on Monday 16th November 1.15 pm in 5W2.1.

Section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 contains a duty on specified authorities, including universities, to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. This duty is usually referred to as “Prevent Duty’’. UCU is opposed to the government imposed Prevent Duty as a matter of principle for many reasons. For example, the Prevent duty seriously threatens academic freedom and freedom of expression, it puts pressure on UCU members to spy on their students and the broad and vague definition of terrorism adopted in the Act will stifle open political debate and legitimate political dissent on campus.*

The University is legally required to formulate an institutional Prevent policy and the local UCU branch was recently given the opportunity to comment on the draft UoB Prevent policy (and associated draft documents). We feel that the University’s current draft policy is not a proportionate response to the Prevent Duty requirements and that the University needs to much more clearly give a positive commitment to supporting academic freedom, freedom of expression and legitimate research. By a disproportionate response, the University can risk its reputation as a place of learning & teaching and protected space for research. We feel that this risk is not acknowledged in the current draft documents. Furthermore, there is much that is vague and opaque in the draft policy (and related draft documents) and this may result in staff and others to over interpret their duties and infringe on legitimate dissent and research in significant ways.

The University is in the process of revising its draft Prevent policy and possibly some of UCU’s comments will be taken on board. However, we fear that the final version of the policy will still be a disproportionate response to government imposed requirements.

*In this context, the following story, reported in TES, is of interest. During a Prevent duty training session in West Yorkshire, more than 100 teachers were given the advice that they should consider environmental activists and anti-fracking protesters as potential extremists and the behaviour of Green Party MP Caroline Lucas – who was arrested for her part in blocking a road at an anti-fracking demonstration in 2013 – was referred to as an example of extremism

For more information see

UCU guide to Prevent

Peaceful campaigners branded terrorist threats

Stifling freedom of expression in UK schools

Further links


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