The Prevent Duty in higher education
Enshrined as a place where ideas could develop independently from any other power, ‘academic freedom’ has been a defining feature of universities since the establishment of the University of Bologna in 1088. Higher education institutions provide a safe space for free speech, for debate and for challenging the status quo. It is into this environment that the Prevent Duty has been introduced by the UK government just recently, to respond to the ideological challenges and threats that modern terrorism poses, and to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.
To some, the Duty is highly controversial, seen as a threat to the academic freedom so important within the sector. But whatever your views, compliance with the duty is a statutory requirement to which all UK universities must now adhere.
What is the Prevent Duty?
As part of the UK government’s overall strategy on counter-terrorism, section 26 (1) of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 outlines the responsibilities of ‘specific authorities’ to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. Higher education institutions are classified as ‘specific authorities’ and must now comply with both the general and sector-related guidelines.
Broadly, Section 26 outlines four explicit responsibilities. Leaders must:
• establish or use existing mechanisms for understanding the risk of radicalisation
• ensure staff understand the risk and build the capabilities to deal with it
• communicate and promote the importance of the duty
• ensure staff implement the duty effectively.
What should higher education institutions do?
Specific guidance has been developed to help universities and HE colleges to comply with the Duty, for England and Wales and for Scotland. The focus is on developing policies and procedures that ensure a balance between freedom of speech and a ‘due regard’ for students, staff and visitors.
In practice, this means particular focus on a range of activities:
1. The risks of events and on-campus activities must be considered and assessed to ensure they comply with the Duty
2. Senior leaders must be actively engaged with the Prevent Duty. This means they must ensure that internal mechanisms are in place to share information within the institution. They must also work in partnership with relevant external partners, including the Police. In Scotland, there is an additional requirement to participate in the Scottish HE Prevent Network; in England and Wales, contact must be maintained with the Safe Campus Communities.
3. HE institutions must have implementation plans in place, which fit broader multi-agency action plans.
4. All staff must be aware of the Prevent Duty, so staff training opportunities must be available. Awareness must extend to the institution’s relationship with its Student Association and their clubs and societies.
5. The institution must develop policies for safety online, with specific reference to the Prevent Duty.
6. Facilities to enable different faiths to worship on campus must also be provided, to support the welfare and pastoral care of students and staff.
For England and Wales, there is an additional focus on maintaining a formal risk assessment for student welfare and for the physical campus estate.
What action should I take?
If you are a governor or senior manager at a university of HE college in England, Wales or Scotland, then you must ensure that your institution is compliant with the Prevent Duty. If not, the UK Government can take further action, which may be equivalent to a court order. Become a champion for your institution’s implementation and approach to the Prevent Duty. In large institutions like universities introduction of appropriate eLearning course would be the probably the best option as it’s a scalable solution. Remember the audit trail in case you need to proof the compliance.
If you are a member of staff at an HE institution or at a students’ union or association, then you should take the time to educate yourself on the Prevent Duty and how your institution is implementing their responsibilities. Be proactive and find out what your specific role demands.
Where can I access further information?
The UK government has developed guidance on the Prevent Duty, for all specified authorities and for providers of higher education. HEFCE has additional information for institutions in England, and good practice guidance has been developed for those in Scotland. Other bodies have also developed information, including Safe Campus Communities and the Committee of University Chairs.
EssentialSkillz also supply an online training course aimed at educating staff on their duties and responsibilities around Prevent Duty.
UK Government Prevent Duty guidance:
Good Practice guide for Scottish Higher Education Institutions:
Safe Campus Communities:
Committee of Universities Chairs:
EssentialSkillz Prevent Duty eLearning course: