The Counter Terrorism & Security Act 2015 and the UK Government's associated Prevent strategy requires universities and public bodies to 'have due regard to the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism' and places responsibility on them to ensure that measures are taken to meet these responsibilities.
The underpinning principle of the Prevent strategy is to safeguard individuals from terrorist-related harm, and for higher education institutions this presents a challenge – to balance the principles of academic freedom with their statutory duties, while safeguarding students and staff. In light of this, the University of Aberdeen has worked to ensure the adoption of measures under Prevent strikes an appropriate balance between academic freedom and student and staff welfare.
As part of this process we have consulted with our student and staff community to ensure full consideration of all of the issues at hand, and sought guidance from relevant sources including the Scottish Higher Education Prevent Working group and the UK Government’s Prevent Duty Guidance for Scottish higher education institutions.
This has led to the adoption of a handful of proportionate measures that enhance our existing procedures.
These include a new protocol on the management of speakers and events, and measures to ensure that staff receive appropriate training to understand their responsibilities under Prevent, and in providing support for staff and students.
In addition, our Research Governance Framework and associated procedures are being updated to identify research where access to extremist material may be required so that staff are aware of procedures around the use of central IT storage and are aware of the laws relating to the use and dissemination of extremist materials online. This will provide students and staff with additional support to assist them in their research.
Finally, the University has established a Safeguarding Panel that will consider concerns raised by staff or students that may require action to protect people from harm.
I want to make it clear to our student and staff community that these measures are not about detecting criminal activity, but about protecting people from harm and providing appropriate support to vulnerable individuals if required. Our robust processes will ensure that any concerns are dealt with sensitively and in confidence, and with the welfare of students and staff as our number one priority. While the risk of extremist activity at the University continues to be low, it is important that we continue to meet our duty of care, and I am confident that the measures that are being introduced offer an improved level of protection for our University community as a whole.
All of the measures outlined above will be introduced in a proportionate and careful manner, and with due regard to the underpinning principles of safeguarding people from harm while ensuring academic freedom.
We are committed to open dialogue with our student and staff community to ensure we take full account of their views as we implement these procedures, and I would encourage anyone who wishes to contact us regarding this process to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime I would invite staff and students to visit our dedicated webpage, which provides additional information on our approach to Prevent and a list of helpful FAQs that includes guidance on how to raise a concern.
Angus Donaldson, Prevent Coordinator