Essay Terror: Students have their essays flagged and shown to police in an attempt to avoid radicalisation

March 25, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Students at a number of universities across the country have had their essays flagged and shown to the police under the “prevent duty” as required by the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.

What does this mean?

The prevent duty is a duty on authorities to prevent individuals from being drawn into terrorism. Freedom of Information requests revealed that a number of universities including De Montfort University, University of Wolverhampton and the University of Reading have flagged students’ essays in response to the government’s anti-radicalisation plan.

This has been criticised as being “overzealous” and has led to students and lecturers becoming labelled as “suspects and informants”. In support of this, data has revealed that some universities require their academics and students to fill out forms before they can access certain material for their studies.

What's the big picture effect?

Although no action has been taken against these students and academics, it has been argued that this is further evidence that the government’s strategy to prevent radicalisation is not working in the way it should be. According to Dr Tufail, a senior lecturer in criminology at Leeds Beckett University, the strategy “does discernible harm…there hasn’t been quick enough action from the government” and calls for the blame also to be placed on universities as they are the ones flagging these pieces of work.

This is not the first time the government has been asked to account for its actions. In January 2019 the government launched a review of the programme as it was alleged that the strategy was discriminatory towards Muslims. However, a government spokesperson said this is not the aim of the programme and it “does not restrict academic freedom nor recommend that students’ work undergoes security checks”. This indicates that either the government is facing unintended consequences of their programme or alternatively, the real blame lies with the universities, especially those who have chosen to require forms being filled out prior to gaining access to certain materials.

5Pillars was told that two schools in the UK have been attempting to train Muslim pupils to spot the signs of radicalisation amongst their peers. whilst this appears to be a great preventative step, some have argued that this is actually causing these pupils to feel as though they must spy on their Muslim peers which surely must not have been the aim of the strategy.

The government’s strategy for curbing radicalisation is commendable, however it appears that there is a fault in its delivery, with both universities and young Muslim pupils being pushed to effectively spy on their students, staff and fellow peers.

Report written by Natasha Dawes

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