Protect Universities & Free Speech: Reject the Counter-Terrorism & Security Bill
The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill 2014-15 establishes a new statutory duty on colleges, schools, prisons, probation providers, police and councils to “prevent individuals from being drawn into terrorism”, and grants the Home Office authority to enforce it by court order.
This Bill is part of Prevent, a government strategy to combat extremism and terrorism. Prevent’s definition of “extremism” is broad and vague, covering "vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values". This explicitly includes non-violent ideas deemed to be “part of a terrorist ideology”, going far beyond rational requirements on rejecting positions inciting violence or harm.
1. The Bill makes universities legally responsible for the political opinions of its students and staff, on campus and beyond;
2. The Bill assumes that the only way to prevent “radicalisation” is to monitor and exclude ideas from public and private debate. This is fundamentally in opposition to the basic function of universities to introduce students to a wide variety of opinions and thoughts, and to encourage them to challenge and debate those views openly;
3. The Bill’s core terms remain so vague as to allow for almost unlimited interpretation, and thus abuse. The Bill provides no safeguards, no rights of appeal, and no constraints on punishments for non-compliance or on actions the government could compel organisations to take. Its only limit is that Members of Parliament, the judiciary, and the police are exempt, thus contradicting Prevent’s own goal of safeguarding the “fundamental British value” of equality before the law;
4. This Bill effectively places University staff, students, and curricula under the government control, giving it the power to compel Universities to remove material deemed likely to ‘radicalise’. It also forces risk-averse institutions to “interpret” ill-defined terms like “extremism” and “radicalisation” with no clear sense of the legal consequences.
Consequently, such legislation, would:
- compromise the basic function of universities to provide an open democratic forum for debate;
- compromise the relationship between students and the university;
- clash with existing commitments under Equality & Diversity legislation to protect diverse views;
- bring UK universities into disrepute on the international stage.
As such, the Bill significantly undermines the freedoms and activities of university staff and students, and is opposed in spirit to the very “fundamental British values” of free speech and open democratic debate it purports to protect.
In light of these, we call upon University authorities, and Universities UK in general, to strongly oppose the passage of this Bill as being fundamentally opposed to the basic functioning of university life in an open, democratic, and inclusive society.