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UK universities 'complacent' in preventing extremism; online measures to be introduced

The updated UK government counter-terrorism 'Prevent' strategy to be published tomorrow, will criticise universities for failing to tackle extremism on campus.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor on

British universities are being 'complacent' over the threat from Islamic extremism, said the Home Secretary Theresa May, speaking to a leading UK newspaper.

Speaking to the Telegraph, the Home Secretary said that higher education institutions are not taking the issue of extremism seriously.

The online world has also been a focus for counter-terrorism officials, with online content and materials disseminating across borders; almost impossible to prevent.

Partnerships with YouTube and AOL are set to be announced, detailing aims of countering extremism online, by using 'anti-paedophile' policing techniques to limit access to extremist websites and materials from schools and public libraries.

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The government's revised 'Prevent' strategy, launched after the 2005 London bombings and aimed at halting the growth of homegrown terrorism and those supporting radical views, is to be published tomorrow.

One newspaper claimed that the updated Prevent strategy has identified 40 universities, along with key boroughs and areas in the UK which are at "particular risk" to radicalisation or recruitment on campus.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, a group representing and including over 100 university chiefs, said that she rejects these views. Speaking to the Telegraph, she said there was no evidence that extremist speakers at university encouraged or incited violence, and that universities are doing what they can to prevent extremism.

There is a preoccupation with 'Islamic extremism', in particular with the British media. One could argue that far-right extremism is more prevalent and therefore more of an issue, which often incite and generate more violence than their far-left activism counterparts.

Radicalisation is a strong, debatable concept, and is part of the continuing problem rather than solution. Define "radicalisation", as it is not necessarily mutually exclusive to political activism. Many will know that student politics is one of the significant areas in universities where students focus their extra-curricular efforts.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab -- the Christmas Day Detroit attempted bomber -- was accused by the media to have been radicalised at University College London. However, the independent Caldicott Enquiry said UCL was not responsible for the radicalisation, nor was Abdulmutallab radicalised while he studied.

Many UK universities have adopted the National Union of Students' "no platform" policy, preventing far-right extremist groups -- such as the British National Party and other extremist organisations, the right to speak on their campuses. Some higher-status universities rejected the motion, allowing it to lapse upon expiry.

The enquiry report raises questions over student surveillance and risking the infringement of academic freedom.

Academic freedom means there can be a reluctance to cooperate with the police on the part of some universities that do not want to be seen as 'spying' on their students.

Yet if the Prevent strategy suggests that academic freedom should be limited to impede the tiniest fraction of radicalised extremists, then one suspects the government's strategy is somewhat biased on fears that are brought about by the very media which it thrives upon.

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