Britain’s Coalition government is rushing through an anti-terrorism bill that would require universities to take action to stop students and staff from being drawn into terrorist activity.
According to Home Secretary Theresa May, this would require higher education institutions to ban extremists from speaking on campus.
The bill is being fast-tracked through parliament before the next election, due on 7 May 2015. The Home Office said the bill would give the United Kingdom some of the toughest powers in the world to tackle the increasing threat from international terrorism.
This is an article from University World News, an online publication that covers global higher education. It is presented here under an agreement with The Chronicle.
To prevent people being radicalised, the government is creating a general duty on a range of bodies, including the governing bodies of universities, to “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.
May, in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute on 24 November, explained that the statutory duty would be placed on schools, colleges and universities. “So, for example, universities will have to put in place extremist speaker policies,” she said.
The organisations subject to the duty will have to take into account guidance issued by the home secretary, and where they fail consistently ministers will be able to issue directions to them, which will be enforceable by law, she said.
Bolstering already considerable powers
The bill, introduced on 26 November, was designed to bolster the already considerable armoury of powers to disrupt the ability of people to travel abroad to fight, reduce the risks they pose on their return and combat the underlying ideology that feeds, supports and sanctions terrorism, the Home Office said.
“We are in the middle of a generational struggle against a deadly terrorist ideology,” May said. “These powers are essential to keep up with the very serious and rapidly changing threats we face.”
The collapse of Syria, the emergence of Islamic State and ongoing instability in Iraq present significant dangers not just in the Middle East but also in Britain and across the West.
Many of the 500 British citizens who have travelled to Syria and Iraq have joined terrorist organisations alongside foreign fighters from Europe and further afield, the Home Office said.
“In an open and free society, we can never entirely eliminate the threat from terrorism. But we must do everything possible in line with our shared values to reduce the risks posed by our enemies,” May said.
“This bill includes a considered, targeted set of proposals that will help to keep us safe at a time of very significant danger by ensuring we have the powers we need to defend ourselves,” she said.
However, human rights campaigners said the bill was a rushed attempt to look tough in the face of terrorism.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said it was “another chilling recipe for injustice and resentment” by closing down the open society that the government sought to promote.
Amnesty International UK legal adviser Rachel Logan said: “It’s dangerous to rush through this grab-bag of measures without proper scrutiny or challenge.”
Dennis Hayes, professor of education at the University of Derby, said the measure would nevertheless be supported by universities already used to being legally compliant.
In an article for The Conversation he said the measure was a “blatant attack on academic freedom”, but most universities already enforce bans on “extremists” including Islamic groups and speakers, often in alliance with student unions in order to ensure that students are “safe”.
He said students were quite capable of arguing with religious radicals and others labelled extremist.
“We have to allow extremists to speak because freedom of speech is the foundation which defines the university. It is the basis of the professional notion of ‘academic freedom’,” he said.
Meanwhile, a preacher has been banned from speaking at the University of East London on the grounds that his publicly stated views go against the university's core values.
According to the London Evening Standard Imran ibn Mansur, 24, who also goes by the name Dawah Man, claimed in Youtube videos that homosexuality was “obscene, filthy and shameless”, and likened being gay to having a ‘disease’.
A spokesman said the university had a proud record of promoting free speech but could not offer a public platform to "speakers who are known to publicise and disseminate homophobic views".