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9.7 Prevention of terrorism 

Over the last few years there have been suggestions in the media that universities and colleges could be fertile recruitment grounds for violent extremists. Research by Universities UK (2011) suggests there is little evidence to back this up but HEIs need to be aware of how their use of social media relates to their obligations under the Terrorism Act 2006. A number of criminal offences could conceivably be initiated using social media for instance:

  • Acts preparatory to terrorism;
  • Encouragement to terrorism;
  • Dissemination of terrorist publications;
  • Terrorist training offences.

Discussion of the issues raises complex questions around freedom of speech (especially given universities' legal obligation to promote this) and the fact that abhorrent views cannot be challenged if they cannot be expressed. There are also issues around legitimate research into terrorism and concerns that staff may be asked to look out for warning signs that they are ill-equipped to judge; unions have indeed expressed concern that are being asked to spy on students. HEIs need to be aware of the risks and be proactive about promoting their values as well as implementing the range of policies, from equality to computer misuse, that play their part in ensuring such crimes are not committed or facilitated via institutional facilities. UUK (2011) makes the point that institutions, staff and students have quite limited obligations under criminal law to disclose information about terrorist offences and activities to the police and that the Terrorism Act 2006 does not create any general legal obligation to monitor and report the activities of members of a university’s community.  However, the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 now places a duty on higher and further education institutions to report those at risk of radicalisation.

Good practice tips:   

  • Understand the risk – undertake an institution-specific review of risk on a regular basis.

  • Be value-driven – encourage behaviours that support the institution's values. UUK (2011) offers a suggested set of principles that should apply to a university community in both its physical and virtual spaces:
    “The University expects its students and staff to make a personal commitment to the following principles:

    1. assume responsibility for their behaviours and the effects of them on other persons

    2. promote and preserve the welfare of other persons within the community and the welfare of the community as a whole

    3. accept that they are part of a community with a strong tradition of enquiry and questioning and respect that tradition whilst exercising the freedom to challenge its implications

    4. be free to consider the broad range of human opinion and ideas

    5. seek to develop as people who contribute positively to the wider society

    6. pursue excellence in their work and study

    7. operate in accordance within the range of behaviours set out above.”

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