Student vetting before study: Waste of time or necessary evil?

Summary:Degree courses sometimes contain knowledge "not necessarily for public knowledge". Should students be vetted to ensure the information is used for good and not bad?

A Nigerian student, at this time thought to be from University College, London, is facing charges of international terrorism offenses after seemingly attempting to detonate rudimentary explosives on a transatlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

Details are still emerging and police on both sides of the Atlantic are working together to piece together what happened and is still considered breaking news. Widespread disruption is expected at all international airports flying to the United States.

However this has opened yet another long standing thought in my mind in regards to students at university and the wider communities. Should students be vetted before entering on a university course, which could perhaps have negative implications on other people?

Mentioned before on this blog, two university students were arrested last year under terrorism laws for accessing "terror related material" which was not only in the public domain, but on a US government website. The materials they were accessing were relating to their course, however were nonetheless held in custody as a possible result of their non-white ethnic backgrounds.

Had they been vetted before they were brought onto their terrorism studies course and deemed suitable for study, perhaps this would have not occurred in the vastly out-of-proportion way that it had.

With a number of courses, the education aspect covers the good alongside the bad. Chemistry students are told about pyrotechnics and explosive elements, computer science students are thrown into the security deep-end and some dedicate their university careers to understanding the in's and out's of Internet security to create white hat hackers.

But when working with children for example, it is expected to gain a level of security clearance - the UK has the e/CRB service while the US has certain police checks. When studying at university, you will be given access to materials which may not necessarily be for non-academic use and should only be used in an "educational manner". Why shouldn't the same rules apply, and have a police check or a level of vetting to ensure that students may not take these bits of knowledge and use them for ulterior motives?

Some already do - a postgraduate certificate in education for those working with children, or academic degrees involving health and social care; working with those more vulnerable. But as technology becomes more and more intrinsic to our every day lives, surely infrastructure services and knowledge for these systems should be somewhat protected also?

Should students be vetted before they enroll on their course?

Topics: Government : US, Government, Security

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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