Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6426

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Vol cxlvi No 31

pp. 517–569

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Chris Abell was presiding, with the Registrary, the Junior Proctor, the Junior Pro-Proctor, and fifty-nine other persons present.

The following Reports were discussed:

First-stage Report of the Council, dated 19 April 2016, on the construction of a new Heart and Lung Research Institute on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus (Reporter, 6422, 2015–16, p. 474).

No remarks were made on this Report.

Topic of concern to the University: That the Regent House, as the governing body of the University, consider the impact of existing measures taken in view of the Prevent regulations, as well as anticipated and possible other measures; their likely effectiveness; their compatibility with academic freedom and human rights; and the appropriate governance of these measures (Reporter, 6423, 2015–16, p. 479).

Professor E. V. Ferran (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional and International Relations), read by the Junior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional and International Relations. In this capacity I act as the University’s Prevent Lead and I chair the newly-formed Prevent Committee, a joint committee of the Council and the General Board.

The Prevent duty became law in September of last year as part of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. It places a duty on specified bodies, including universities, to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’.

The Act also requires those authorities to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State in meeting the Prevent duty. That guidance refers to a number of key areas that require properly thought-through and applied policies and procedures.

Importantly, the Act makes clear that universities must protect freedom of speech and academic freedom in meeting the requirements of the Prevent duty.

Those, in very brief outline, are the relevant legal requirements as they have been specified, although it is important to consider Prevent in the wider context of other relevant legislation, in particular the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Education Act 1986. The latter requires higher education institutions to secure freedom of speech within the law for staff, students, and visiting speakers.

The Prevent duty has triggered much criticism and debate, both before and after its enactment. Today’s Discussion is testament to that, as well as the enduring vitality of our own democratic system of governance, and our core values of ‘freedom of thought and expression’ and ‘freedom from discrimination’.

It is also worth noting that the University of Cambridge, along with the Russell Group and Universities UK, voiced strong concerns about the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill at the consultation stage. Those representations were successful in achieving certain changes to the statutory guidance.

But Prevent is now law, and the University and Colleges (along with other higher education establishments and public authorities) must now comply.

So what impact will the Prevent duty have on the University, its operations, and its people?

The initial impact is mainly administrative. The University is required to submit an action plan to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)by 1 August this year that shows how it intends to meet its duties under Prevent. It must also submit a risk assessment, and demonstrate how it will mitigate risks around external speakers and events. Thereafter, the University is only required to submit an annual report to HEFCE.

Members of the Regent House should be aware of the considerable freedoms that universities have in meeting their duties under Prevent. As HEFCE’s own Monitoring framework for the higher education sector – makes clear:1

The duty applies to a wide range of providers with very different institutional structures and cultures. Relevant higher education bodies are responsible for assessing Prevent-related risks in their own context and deciding on appropriate and proportionate actions in response to their assessment of those risks.

The measures taken by the University will therefore be proportionate and risk-based. They will draw heavily on existing policies that hitherto have been considered suitably well managed and governed. Where revision is required – for example, in issuing new guidance for booking meetings and events – it will be light touch, and will focus on helping individuals assess risks and seek further advice within the University if they have any concerns. The Prevent Committee will provide strategic oversight and advice, and ensure that measures taken are both effective and appropriate.

Much emphasis will be placed on upholding the excellent levels of pastoral care and welfare support that the collegiate University provides for its staff and students. We do not anticipate a need to change significantly the highly effective safeguarding mechanisms that the University and Colleges already have in place. The impact on the University community will therefore be negligible.

At the heart of the Prevent duty is a desire to mitigate the risks posed by dangerous criminal behaviour. We should view our responsibilities under the duty in the way that we view our responsibilities towards any criminal behaviour. In other words, we should be aware of the risks, be prepared to take appropriate and proportionate action, and to know when, and how, to seek the involvement of external partners in the very unlikely situation that they may be required.

Dr A. J. Hutchings (University Council and Computer Laboratory):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am a Research Associate at the Computer Laboratory. I am a criminologist, specializing in understanding cybercrime offenders, and the prevention, intervention, and disruption of online crime. I am an elected member of the University Council; however, my remarks here today are made in a personal capacity.

Under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, the University is required to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. The University must have regard to the guidance issued by the Home Office when carrying out this duty.

A careful reading of the Prevent duty guidance reveals that it is quite broad, and there is an element of discretion and judgment that is required. For example, the University is required to ‘assess risks’ and ‘consider’ implementation. Hopefully, this broadness will enable the University to take a ‘light touch’ approach to the duty, and I will shortly discuss why I believe this is necessary. However, such discretion could also allow for heavy-handed approaches, for example, prohibiting students from booking rooms for social events, or monitoring their use of social media. Indeed, I understand that compliance with the Prevent duty has already been used to justify such actions in UK universities.

It is my belief that, when considering risk, the University should consider the risk of extremism and terrorism overall. As Steven Pinker makes quite clear in his book, Better Angels of our Nature, violence has declined significantly over time. Despite what the news headlines tell us about modern-day terrorism, this downward trend is continuing. We now live in some of the most peaceful times humans have ever known. This is not to downplay the effects that are felt by the victims of violence, and those that are displaced from their countries. Indeed, it is my belief that governments can and should do more to treat asylum seekers and refugees humanely, and with dignity and compassion.

Pinker analyses the historical trends that relate to this decline in violence, with the most recent trend being the rights revolution. Arising from the period after World War II and continuing to the present day, the rights revolution is associated with an awareness, and championing, of human rights. Therefore, I argue that any implementation of the Prevent duty that potentially degrades rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, is potentially counterproductive. Universities should not just ‘balance’ the legal duties with freedom of speech and academic freedom, but these considerations should take priority.

In fact, I would argue that to respond to the risk of violence with policies that are disproportionate to the threat, are contrary to human rights, and that have negative consequences for the law-abiding majority, does little in terms of prevention. Instead, it breeds mistrust of authority, stigmatizes marginalized groups, and can have detrimental effects. A common theme in the literature on radicalization is a process of disenfranchisement and progressive isolation leading to identification with extremist ideologies As there are little known risk factors for radicalization, the probability of stereotyping is likely to be high, including of the young, males, and Muslims.

As a criminologist, I am aware of a number of theories that would question the effectiveness of Prevent, and the associated Channel de-radicalization programme, in countering violent extremism. For instance, Diego Gambetta’s signalling theory helps us understand the ways criminals identify themselves to each other and signal trustworthiness in an otherwise untrusted environment. Applying this theory to this context, then prohibiting somebody from speaking at the University, or referring a student to the Channel programme, could send the signal that they are legitimate recruiters or are susceptible to recruitment.

Another perspective comes from the symbolic interactionist elements of Howard Becker’s labelling theory. Known as the ‘looking glass effect’, labelling people as criminals (or in this context, as extremists), may create a self-fulfilling prophecy, as they may adopt an identity congruent with that label, and act accordingly.

Therefore, when implementing the Prevent duty, I believe that the University should take these potentially negative and adverse effects into consideration. Feelings of alienation and being misunderstood do little to prevent antisocial behaviour, and could have a stigmatizing effect.

A negative impact on the perceived legitimacy of the UK government is another concern. Research has demonstrated that perceived legitimacy is as important as deterrence principles in influencing compliance with the law. Ensuring that crime prevention interventions are perceived as legitimate, in that they have public acceptance, is essential to their success. Laws, policies, and institutions that are seen as overstepping legitimacy can lessen overall authority in a state.

Surprisingly, I have been unable to find any published evaluation or cost benefit analysis of the Prevent duty, or the associated Channel programme, despite them having been in operation for over four years. I would expect that any requirements that bear such cost to the University, including social costs, to be based on best practice.Furthermore, I would expect that any evaluations should be independent, in that they should not be run by those that developed or deliver the programme, and subject to full and rigorous peer review.

I am concerned that such onerous, potentially harmful, and poorly defined requirements are being imposed without a clear justification and benefit. Beyond challenging the basis of the Prevent duty, the University and Colleges have little option but to comply. However, they should carefully consider all aspects when choosing how this is to be done, and it is my belief that they should not implement more than the bare minimum.

Professor R. J. Anderson (University Council and Computer Laboratory):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am Professor of Security Engineering and an elected member of the University Council, although I make these remarks in a personal capacity.

We are required to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’, to ‘assess risks’ and ‘consider’ implementation. My colleague Alice Hutchings has mentioned the enormous decline in violence that has followed the invention of the state, the arrival of the Enlightenment, and most recently the rights revolution. As one of the organizers of the annual Workshop on Security and Human Behaviour, which brings together security engineers with psychologists, anthropologists, and economists to study issues from cybercrime to terrorism, I can confirm that the views of Steven Pinker which she quoted reflect a broad consensus among people who study such matters.

Dr Hutchings argues that any implementation of the Prevent duty that potentially degrades rights, including freedom of speech, thought, conscience, and religion, is potentially counterproductive. I go further. The modern state is a machine that evolved, or in some cases was designed, with wheels that move at different speeds. Fundamental freedoms are rightly the hardest of all to change; to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights we would have to leave not just the European Union but also the Council of Europe. Unless and until that happens, the University is obliged to put rights first. And we should do so with enthusiasm rather than hand-wringing, since a rights-based policy is not only morally and legally the right one, but is also likely to give the best outcomes.

There has been much research on how young men are radicalized and drawn into violent extremism. Dr Paul Gill at UCL, for example, has investigated lone-wolf terrorists as well as mass killers – people who murder four or more victims. He finds no significant differences between them. In fact, people with a propensity for violence who come off the rails typically seek some moral justification. An abusive ex-husband, having brooded for months on his wife’s leaving him, goes to her church and shoots her along with some other worshippers, blaming the church’s liberal attitudes for America’s decline. In just the same way, a young man with a propensity for violence may blame the world’s woes on the wickedness of the west. More generally, the anthropologist Alan Fiske has documented how most human-on-human violence is ‘virtuous’, in the sense that the perpetrator needs to feel that the murder, or mutilation, or beating that they are about to commit defends some social norm. Heretics are killed to please God; female genital mutilation protects purity; and one thug knifes another for showing ‘disrespect’.

Against this background, we can understand how an alienated youngster, finding himself one of thousands of freshers in a large metropolitan university, may gravitate to a group of religious or other enthusiasts who offer the thrill of helping to right the world’s wrongs by direct action. The group can be more effective if it acts as an echo chamber and takes over its members’ social lives. Sadly, the violent action that some young men seek can find validation there.

Cambridge has produced remarkably few violent extremists over the years, and we can now perhaps understand why. Students here are immersed in College life and forced to socialize with people not of their choosing – on their staircase, in their supervision groups, on tutorial sides, sports teams, and perhaps group project work. Interacting with people from different backgrounds and studying different subjects has long been a critical part of our magic formula. So has regular contact between students and senior members of the University, whether acting as tutors, directors of studies, mentors, or friends. An echo chamber is not the Cambridge way.

The guidance invites us to consider non-violent extremism. Cambridge has a long history of distinguished scholars who took extremist positions and thereby changed the world, from Erasmus and Newton to Darwin and Russell. I wrote about this in my Unauthorised history of Cambridge University1 to celebrate our octocentenary seven years ago. In fact, the four violent extremists I’ve found among our alumni are the Pilgrim leaders Henry Barrowe, John Greenwood and Robert Browne, and of course Oliver Cromwell. I note in passing that while the government’s Prevent training materials portray the Glasgow airport bomber Mohammad Asha as a ‘Cambridge’ plotter, this is somewhat of a slander. First, Mr Asha worked for Addenbrooke’s, not for Cambridge University; and second, the jury acquitted him. I am not aware of any Cambridge alumnus in the last century who ended up a violent extremist; even during the turbulent 1970s, when I was an undergraduate, no-one ran off to join the IRA or the PLO.

So we have had due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism, and assessed the risk, which I assess as low. Now we have to consider implementation.

The guidance asks us to consider the use of filters for blocking access to jihadist websites. We do have some expertise here. Twenty years ago I proposed the Eternity Service, a pioneering censorship resistant system, that led to Freenet and the peer-to-peer movement; for some years one of my postdocs was a lead maintainer of Tor; and I have a research student who studies online censorship in less developed countries. If we were to block Islamist websites, then interested students would simply use Tor or Virtual Private Networks to access them, as students do in Iran to access western websites. What’s more, Tor would make it much harder for the security service to see who’s watching what. It is perhaps unsurprising that GCHQ won’t give Janet the list of naughty websites, so blocking isn’t an option.

Might surveillance be an option? Here the answer is a clear no. The Prevent guidance forbids us from doing anything covert, as do the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Treaty of Rome as explained by the European Court of Justice in the Digital Rights Ireland case which found against suspicionless bulk surveillance.

We are also asked to have policies for students and staff working on sensitive online materials. We already have people working with all sorts of hazardous and sensitive material from human pathogens through toxic chemicals and radionuclides to computer malware. The normal procedure is for the Principal Investigator to do a risk assessment and draw up handling rules. We can see no reason for doing something special for materials that are freely available online in any case.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, both the science and our history teach us that we should value what we’ve got. We must understand why it works, and build on it. The Proctors must continue to supervise student societies, vet external speakers where there is some risk of disruption, and stand ready to act as arbiters whenever a student society suffers a failure of governance. We must set our face against any measures that might stigmatize some groups of students. Above all we must continue to provide an inclusive, supportive, and liberal environment that promotes and defends the values of the Enlightenment.

Dr S. Ranganathan (Faculty of Law and King’s College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, thank you for the opportunity to speak. I want to make a few points about the legal scope of the Prevent duty, and its implications for us. I hope not to take up more than five minutes of your time. What I will say are of course my own views on the matter, but I represent here also the views of my colleague, Dr Eva Nanopoulos, who could not be present today.

First, it is crucial to keep in mind that virtually all institutions that supply social goods, and perform public functions, have been made the bearers of this duty. Schools, universities, hospitals, our GPs, county councils, and of course police and prisons, are all charged with the duty to Prevent. Thus, although we are here today to discuss the implementation of Prevent by universities, the duty itself applies to a wider range of institutions and hence will have implications way beyond the university sector.

But what is the duty to Prevent? And this is my second point. Prevent legislation, i.e., the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act of 2015 is an extraordinary piece of drafting. It is both extraordinarily intrusive and extraordinarily vague.

It is extraordinarily intrusive because it targets ideas, not just actions. ‘Thoughtcrime’ is not crime, but Prevent would seem to make it so. In doing so, it reduces the space for dissent.

And for what? It is not even clear what precisely is being targeted. The statutory guidance issued under the Counter-Terrorism Act directs us to all forms of ‘extremism’, described as ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.’ Fine values, all of them, but the mere opposition to them does not make one a terrorist. Not if it is not violent, or inciting of violence: I could understand if that was what the guidance focused upon, but its scope is broader.

In fact, how we can claim to respect these values on the one hand, and make the fact that someone else may not a reportable incident? Are we then respecting their liberty; or showing tolerance for their different belief? We fail by our own standards.

The legislation is also extraordinarily vague. Law – as this country’s great jurisprudential tradition teaches us – is supposed to be clear and specific. When it asks us to do something, it must clearly set out the aim to be achieved, the means to be used, and the standards by which we will be judged. The Counter Terrorism Act does none of this. It simply states the duty ‘to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. With respect, this is as anodyne as saying ‘a duty to have due regard to the need to avoid the apocalypse’.

The overall strategy is made more problematic, not less, by the anodyne quality of the Prevent legislation. For, implicit in the vague statement, is an exhortation. That it is up to us to define the contours of what we will do; and to take it upon ourselves to do the very maximum. Up to us to make the vague duty a rod for our backs.

We see this exhortation made plain in the statutory guidance, which seeks to co-opt our institutions into surveillance and reporting of students and colleagues. Co-opt us into reading into their radicalism – their environmentalism, their socialism, their cultural pride, their rage against the machine, their take-downs of neo-liberalism, their distaste for Trident or for the war in Syria, their dislike of cricket – disaffections that have become dangerous. Prevent seeks to privatize security, and make all of us its agents; collaborators on the slippery slope of suspicion.

Laws are reprehensible when they permit government to intrude upon our liberty, equality, and dignity. But they are much worse when they lead us to intrude upon each other.

And here is my third and final point: the implications for us. Now you may say that all the dangers I have described cannot possibly be true of Cambridge, and those who will administer Prevent here. And you would be right. I have enormous respect for the University administration, and admiration for some decisions it has taken in the past, that though not easy, were right. I am glad of the fact that even on the present issue, the University is making all effort to consult widely. So when you say that you will not read into the law any ridiculous meanings, I believe you.

But here is how law works. Law normalizes incrementally. It continuously evolves new equilibria in which what was once beyond the pale becomes quotidian. And we forget when it was not. Law also dispels our sense of responsibility, of having made a choice; we take the new normal as our new ‘given’. And when the legal rule is vague, and indeterminate, as this one is, it remains available for capture: for the grafting of ever-new more invasive normals. And we, in being just the conscientious followers of the law, become its objects.

We should, rather, engage with the law actively – not just to implement it, but to fix its meaning by our careful and explicitly-stated interpretation. And in this way, foreclose the opportunity for other readings that would lead us into intrusive and discriminatory new normals.

We must seize upon the vagueness of the Prevent duty, and the law’s own recognition of the importance of academic freedom and the freedom of speech. We must say that we cannot possibly see it as endorsing the policing of thought, or of non-violent action even if it confronts British values. We do not accept the conflation of extremism with terrorism; nor the covert conflations of dissent with extremism and terrorism with Islam. We do not accept also the nudge towards a bureaucracy of surveillance and suspicion. In short, we do not see this law as adding anything new to the responsibilities we already bear as citizens and members of the community.

So by all means let us follow the law, but also use well the opportunity we have to give it a meaning that we can live with.

Ms S. Kus (University Information Services):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am a Computer Officer in the University Information Services, and from Wolfson College; I am also an ex-Special Constable.

Given my work at the University, I’d like to offer some thoughts on the consequences of the Prevent duty to the individual, particularly student, who may encounter it. I will do so as a set of questions that I hope can be considered as we think about what, in the long run, will be the toll of this duty on young people at this University.

1. There are already several law enforcement agencies tasked with monitoring young people. What will this duty do in particular? Why must it be made?

2. As part of our duties as tutors, investigators, administrators, we already identify vulnerable students and seek to support them; what is different now?

3. Two notes here: First, the duty forces citizens to take on the duties of monitoring an entire community – more or less. We are asked to watch, scrutinize Muslims, from the time they enter school until they end university. And then, police and intelligence services take over more directly as their communities and institutions are monitored more directly.

4. But let us look at Prevent at this University. A student is here for a limited time. We are asked to offer pastoral care for students already vulnerable to radicalization or ‘extremism’. What can this mean? What can it mean to look for extremism when looking at a student who, even before they have arrived at the University, has likely been subject to racism, sexism, and Islamophobia.

5. If we are to understand the research on radicalization, many of the young people who become part of violent extremist groups often do so as a result of incremental acts of violence (physical, emotional, or otherwise) towards them – or their communities. We say that Prevent will be able to streamline a process of deterring ‘radicalization’ before it happens, but what of that targeting itself? How do we guarantee that those trainings of implicit bias, or sensitivity, actually understand the individual alienations of students, whose experiences are as multiple and varied as any others? What does targeting in itself do? And it is targeting – because every indicator used has been drawn from an essentialized understanding of how ‘particular’ groups – here almost squarely Muslims – are assumed to do as a result of alienation (for whatever reason).

In other words, we already have a policing mechanism to stop and search based on preconceived ideas of who and what a person is or may be doing. It has largely failed, and instead has given cover to the overwhelming targeting of brown and black citizens. How is Prevent any different, and why should this University participate in such a failed exercise?

Professor G. R. Evans (Emeritus Professor of Medieval Theology and Intellectual History), read by the Junior Pro-Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor,

The statutory Prevent duty

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, s.31 has trouble with its definitions, especially the ones which matter most in this place, ‘academic freedom’ and ‘freedom of speech’ (or ‘expression’).

It chickens out, simply referring in s.31(5) to two existing pieces of legislation. The first is Education (No. 2) Act 1986, s.43. This was passed in a period when student organizations were banning speakers with whose views they did not agree, in a way not dissimilar to recent ‘safe space’ campaigning – as commentators have pointed out. ‘The duty on universities to ensure freedom of speech’ is defined in the Counter-Terrorism Act in terms of this limited provision, designed to ensure that invited speakers could not be prevented from speaking in a particular place, the ‘campus’. Cambridge is required to have a Code of Practice under this statute and to keep it up to date.1 There have been one or two challenging episodes in Cambridge in recent years.

The second is the Education Reform Act 1988, c.202(2)(a) which protects academics, but only academics to whom it formally applies, from losing their jobs or ‘privileges’ for expressing lawful but ‘controversial or unpopular’ opinions. That wording entered the Cambridge Statutes, as was required at the time, and is still there, now at Statute C I 3(a). The legislation of 1988 was meant to protect academics who lost tenure under that Act. It is now applicable to all University Officers in Cambridge but not to unestablished academic and academic-related staff. Their freedom seems unprotected by it too, as does the academic freedom of all academics in post-1992 universities or the new ‘alternative providers’ with degree-awarding powers or university title, for this legislation does not apply to them. To the best of my knowledge only one litigant has sought to use this provision and then only tangentially, against University College London in the late 1990s.

The Act creating the Prevent duty says that ‘ “academic freedom” means the freedom referred to’ in this section of the 1988 Act, although the phrase is not actually used in the 1988 legislation. ‘Academic freedom’ seems never to have been been defined in English law except now in this unsatisfactory way in the Counter-Terrorism legislation, by reference to a clause in which the phrase does not even appear.

These definitions referred to in the new legislation may be statutory, but they have been taken far out of the context in which they originally became law. The legislation of 1986 was about not banning speakers intending to speak ‘lawfully’, whatever they wanted to say. However, it applies only on University property. The Counter-Terrorism legislation seeks to require such prospective speakers to demonstrate their intention in detail two weeks in advance.

But, as the government was warned in consultation, it is going to be difficult to require an invited speaker to provide his exact words fourteen days ahead of delivery. It was pointed out that ‘requiring any external academic or speaker to have a presentation ready within fourteen days of presenting would be impractical’.2 Could you manage that every time you were going to lecture? Have you never spoken extempore or made changes when your audience looked bored with your script?

The definitions in the new Act bear the marks of the framing of legislation in a panic. They create for the academic world a Dangerous Dogs Act seeking to put new rules on academic freedom of speech, and going far beyond the limited concern of 1988, s.202 to prevent academics being dismissed for ‘question[ing] and test[ing] received wisdom’ or ‘put[ting] forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions’.

Have a look at the clauses of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. It begins by describing its purpose thus. It is:

An Act to prohibit persons from having in their possession or custody dogs belonging to types bred for fighting; to impose restrictions in respect of such dogs pending the coming into force of the prohibition; to enable restrictions to be imposed in relation to other types of dog which present a serious danger to the public; to make further provision for securing that dogs are kept under proper control; and for connected purposes.

Run an eye over some of the clauses. They cover ‘dogs bred for fighting; other specially dangerous dogs; keeping dogs under proper control; destruction and disqualification orders; seizure, entry of premises and evidence; dogs owned by young persons; muzzling and leads’. It soon became clear that some harmless mutts were being arrested for their resemblance to a ‘dangerous dog’ and there was a lot of ‘just in case’ muzzling. One would not need to stretch metaphor very far to map these loosely-defined doggy undesirables and their handlers onto the mindset of the Act which imposes the Prevent duty now. ‘One person’s non-violent extremist is another person’s wise voice’ notes the Master of Fitzwilliam in her blog.3 My characterful mongrel is your dangerous breed.

HEFCE’s requirements

In the case of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act s.31, there is the further concern that the Secretary of State gets to ‘specify authorities’ to whom universities are to report and in the case of Cambridge that is to be the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). But HEFCE is listed for abolition in favour of a new Office for Students in the Green Paper published in November 2015.4 We are promised a White Paper very soon and HEFCE may yet survive but the word on the street is that there has been a good deal of falling out between the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills (BIS) and HEFCE recently.

As to the powers of Secretaries of State, the use of Statutory Instruments always needs watching closely and there is a long history of resistance (fairly successful so far but having to be fought with energy in both Houses of Parliament whenever new higher education legislation is in prospect) to attempts to allow the holders of that office for universities to gain direct control of academic matters in individual institutions.

HEFCE has meanwhile been entrusted with the task of being the ‘authority’ to which Cambridge like other universities must respond with their Prevent plans. Search the Cambridge Reporter and the Oxford Gazette for the Lambert Review and remind yourself of the concerns which were expressed last time Cambridge and then Oxford had a ‘governance-change’ debate. It was rumoured that HEFCE might withhold funding from Oxford and Cambridge if they did not comply with the Lambert requirement (Recommendation 7.6) to demonstrate within three years that they were going to ‘agree with the Government’ about ‘reform’, to make their governance look like that of other universities.5 Both the rumoured threat and the requirement disappeared into oblivion before the three years were up. If HEFCE disappears what will the Secretary of State set over Cambridge as the new ‘authority’?

The final version of the HEFCE monitoring framework was published in November 2015. Section 10 notes that universities are:

responsible for assessing Prevent-related risks in their own context and deciding on appropriate and proportionate actions in response to their assessment of those risks.

HEFCE will then:

assess whether the action plans, policies and processes set out by each university take account of the topics covered in both sets of statutory guidance and are sufficient to respond to the issues identified in their own risk assessments.

Cambridge’s response so far …

The Colleges all have to be monitored separately but for the University the Cambridge Council met on 18 January to discuss its required preliminary response.6 The Minutes are commendably full. Among the comments recorded are the important one that it is:

important that the University continued to act as a vocal champion of freedom of expression and academic freedom, recognising that these were, in themselves, mechanisms by which to challenge and prevent people from being drawn into terrorism [italics added].

There have apparently been ‘joint meetings with HEFCE Officers’ involving the Colleges and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education is ‘producing training materials’.7 Whatever Cambridge makes of these the Council minuted that it ‘would be important to be able to capture data about the uptake of this training for the purposes of reporting to the HEFCE’.

Oxford has quite an extensive open-access Prevent website already8 and has published its preliminary submission (though with the rest of the Oxford Prevent duty ‘documentation’ this is incomprehensibly accessible only with Oxford’s equivalent of Raven access).9 Given sight of it, it is interesting to read that Oxford’s preliminary submissions in January included the expression ‘as we deem necessary’ more than once. Cambridge has not made its preliminary submission available to members of the Regent House, nor, I understand has the Council seen it. Could Cambridge perhaps provide us with a comparable website, and preferably with all the documentation visible? I have not been able to find one yet.

The University is advertising for an Information and Legal Compliance Administrator (Fixed Term), closing date 19 May, to support ‘the Head of the Registrary’s Office on the implementation of the University’s Prevent duty under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. In particular, the post-holder will assist in the development and maintenance of procedures in this area, including the servicing of the relevant committee’.10 Lucky him or her – for a University trying to comply with a law which cannot adequately define its terms and sees Hounds of the Baskervilles and Cerberus look-alikes everywhere – is rightly going, I hope, to insist on better clarification of what exactly ‘compliance’ will require.

‘Academic autonomy’ is now normally used with reference to institutions, not to speaking and writing persons. However, it is another phrase likely to cause problems in the implementation of s.31 and one would have liked to see an attempt at definition in the Act we are discussing. The Counter-Terrorism legislation recognizes (Schedule 6) that the ‘specified authority’ for this University is its governing body, and its governing body under Statute A III 1 is the Regent House. The Regent House would have to make an act of delegation to hand over to the Council or any officer, however senior, the right to decide how Cambridge fulfils its statutory duties. One hopes it won’t Grace any such proposal. As things stand, it has a right to be in full control of whatever is to be done in fulfilment of this new statutory duty.

Mr A. Q. M. S. Zaman (King’s College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am an undergraduate Historian at King’s College, I am a member of the Islamic Society’s Activism subcommittee, and I also speak in my capacity as a Muslim student.

Prevent is the biggest concern Muslim students have about their time in universities. For us, it is a huge barrier for free speech, as anything we say can be seen through the prism of security. Students I’ve spoken to are afraid to speak truthfully about their views even in supervisions, due to the fear that they might be identified as an extremist. I myself am also very wary of speaking about American foreign policy, for example, with my supervisors. And to some extent this is for good reason too: a [Muslim] student studying a postgraduate degree on counterterrorism in the University of Salford was interrogated by the university authorities about why he was reading a book called Terrorism studies. There have, of course, been many more absurd examples, not all in a university setting, about Muslim students being questioned about what they say; for example, a student at school being questioned about why he used the phrase ‘ecoterrorism’.

Prevent also extends to denying platform speakers who could be defined extremists. I have had to cancel a discussion within my own College titled Islam in Europe, after a Telegraph article was written on one of the invited speakers, which labelled him as an extremist. The fact that the speaker wrote a response countering these allegations did little to change that. The political landscape is such that it is so easy for the press or for politicians to label Muslim speakers as extremists, that it’s hard to find speakers on Islam or Muslim speakers without any allegations as such. A recent example of this would be Suliaman Ghani who clearly had some unsavoury views but was quite vocal in condemning ISIS. Yet the Prime Minister himself called him an extremist. This form of censorship makes it very difficult to organize debates on topical issues among Muslim students. However, it does not stop these conversations from occurring as they still occur underground in more dangerous environments. Muslims will still talk about Syria, about Wahabism, or about American foreign policy. But they are more likely to find their information from questionable sources on the internet rather than from intellectual discussions at university.Prevent is counterproductive as counterterrorism.

The Prevent programme affects almost exlusively Muslim students. It takes the patronizing view that Muslim students cannot think critically or that they are swayed so easily by speakers. I would urge the University to revoke its implementation of Prevent legislation: for us, it elicits anxiety, it amounts to controlling our language, and is against the principles of free speech.

Dr J. E. Powles (Faculty of Law and Computer Laboratory):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I wish merely to add two points on this extremely troubling subject. I do so as a postdoctoral legal researcher in the Law Faculty and the Computer Laboratory, with some background in national security matters.

My first point is practical. We should accord the Prevent duty no more time than the government itself envisaged in its Impact Assessment on the proposed Bill. That is to say, £573 – or the allocation of one junior staff-member’s time for one week per year – and a one-hour training session for seven to eight individuals per year. Training that we should subject to rigorous academic enquiry as to how it accords with the evidence base on counterterrorism and with principles of law and justice.

I do not say this disrespectfully. To the contrary, I say it out of the greatest respect for this institution, its enterprise, and the rule of law. I say it because there is no legal obligation imposed by this Act that this University, through its Statutes and Ordinances, does not already comply with, and which, as Professor Ross Anderson enunciated so clearly, is not aided by the ‘magic formula’ that is this institution and its Colleges.

The only operative parts of this legislation, in the primary part of the Act, are a general duty on the institution as a whole and an express recognition of the need to preserve academic freedom and freedom of expression.

Beyond this, there are – as colleagues have noted – impossibly diffuse, unclear aspirations with regard to ‘extremist’ and ‘radical’ thought. The guidance, which is under delegated legislation and is voluntary, is predicated on risk. Risk that we will in some unclear way be guided on, and which in the Impact Assessment, the government failed to address beyond saying that it is impossible to quantify the future possible benefit in reducing loss of life [from terrorism]. To this I would argue that there is a clear and immediate risk to our freedoms and rights by imposing this obligation.

My second point is one of principle. The clear intent of the Prevent duty is to shift responsibility for the impossible task of reducing incidents of terrorism [to citizens]. If there is extremism at the heart of the Prevent duty, it is in the notion that ordinary citizens should become conscripted as agents of the Security State.

Professor I. H. White (University Council and Master of Jesus College), read by the Junior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am the Chair of the Colleges’ Committee and wish to comment on some governance matters relating to the Topic of Concern.

Firstly, the requirement of the University to respond to the matters approved in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 is enshrined in that legislation and in the subsequent statutory guidance published in September of last year. The legal requirements placed upon the University apply equally – and separately – to each of the Colleges as well.

Compliance with the law is being monitored by the appointed regulator for higher education, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), and representatives of the University and the Colleges have met with officers from HEFCE on a number of occasions to clarify their expectations and interpretation of the statutory guidance, particularly in the context of the collegiate University.

Each College has been separately reviewing its legal duties through their own governance structures. In addition, matters relating to Prevent have also been discussed on a number of occasions between Heads of House, and between Senior Tutors, leading to the development, by the Head of the Office of Intercollegiate Services, of guidance notes for Colleges to take forward their consideration of the prescribed duties, including among others the scope of any risk assessment, and an agreed position on the importance of academic freedom. These are available at:

In consultation with the University, HEFCE, and BIS advisers on Prevent, the intercollegiate guidance has suggested that the Colleges take a proportionate approach based on a review of the likelihood of risks indicated in the statutory guidance. In most cases, the legal requirements of Prevent have resulted in Colleges reviewing the transparency of their current arrangements. To date, no significant risks of non-compliance have been communicated to the Office of Intercollegiate Services. More importantly, the actions taken to date have not revealed any significant risks to the security and safety of Colleges and their members.

Dr P. Gopal (Faculty of English and Churchill College), read by Dr Qato:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I wish to express my grave concern about the ethical and political implications of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 and the Prevent duties imposed upon universities. As has been noted by several commentators already, the implementation of the Act can be challenged under the Human Rights Act of 1998 that is already in force. Specific applications of the Prevent duty are in danger also of violating Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. These relate to freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly which, in addition to academic freedom, it is the primary duty of any academic community to protect vigorously. Colleagues at Oxford have noted that the way in which the Act has been operationalized through their Colleges’ submissions to HEFCE ‘makes significant in-roads into these rights’.

Apart from noting, as many will, the manifold problems of implementing such heavy-handed legislation in any community that values equality, diversity, political debate, and academic freedom, let us also not skirt the most serious issue at stake: the fact that this is legislation which in intent and spirit, if not openly to the letter, is in grave danger of making the University complicit in singling out one minority community and consolidating the unacceptable levels of racism and unexamined prejudices which are on the rise in society more broadly. I believe that it is not only the duty of a robust academic community to refute any such association but that we should be leading the charge against ending all such pernicious thinking and attitudes. As things stand, compliance with the Prevent duty put us on the reverse path: of sleepwalking into inequality and racial profiling. Oxford and Cambridge have already received a lot of criticism for their failures in relation to race and racial equality; we should do nothing which puts us in danger of exacerbating the ills of an already less than felicitous atmosphere for Black and Minority Ethnic students and staff.

Finally, let us remember that what is deemed ‘extremism’ today in relation to one community is a movable goalpost. Our every action must protect the freedom to question and test received ideas and put forward new ones, including the unpopular, without undue restrictions or danger of losing our jobs and privileges. To allow, endorse, and implement such sweeping legislation may be usefully irrelevant to our own interests, concerns, and affiliations today; tomorrow may be an entirely different story as such laws are turned against us. As an academic community that values the highest forms of equality, freedom of inquiry, and robust debate, let us not find ourselves complicit in programmes of action that are incommensurate with these values.

Dr W. Yaqoob (Faculty of History and Pembroke College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, my name is Waseem Yaqoob. I am a Research Fellow in Politics and International Studies at Pembroke College, and Research Staff Representative of the Cambridge University branch of the University and Colleges Union (UCU), and though I speak in a personal capacity, these remarks broadly reflect the position of the Union as decided through the democratic deliberation of its over 100,000 members across the UK. They therefore apply both to the Higher Education and Further Education sector as a whole as well as to the implementation of the Prevent duty at this university.

UCU is of the view that the Prevent duty threatens academic freedom and freedom of speech at universities. It will stifle political and social activity on campuses, and perhaps most importantly, it forces academics to involve themselves in processes that will inevitably disproportionately target Muslim students and breed mistrust between educators and those students. I will focus on four broad areas of concern here.

The first area of concern relates to the issue of ‘British values’ as defined by the Prevent duty itself. Prevent centres on tackling what the government calls ‘non-violent extremism’ – in other words, no actual violent act may have been considered or admired for it to be activated. The government defines extremism as

vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.

[It also includes in its definition of extremism calls for the death of members of the armed forces.] This opens up a very ambiguous definition of extremism and includes expressions of political views that may not involve any invocation or support of violence. This definition opens the Prevent powers to be used against political activities and social activities that may have nothing at all to do with terrorism.

The second area of concern relates to the model of radicalization that stands behind Prevent. It is based on a ‘conveyor belt’ model that involves vulnerable individuals being groomed by radical clerics, the internet, or other associates and in which non-violent extremism leads inexorably to violent extremism and therefore to acts of terrorism. This ignores the multifarious social and economic contexts in which extremism may develop, focusing instead on a narrow securitization of education and society, and placing the burden for that security agenda on public sector institutions.

Prevent also disproportionately targets Muslim students. Most of the training packages for Prevent stress that it is about targeting all forms of terrorism, not just ‘Muslim extremism’. The Home Office’s WRAP DVD1 dwells at length, for example, on the case of a far-right activist. However in practice Prevent as it has been already implemented in other public sector institutions outside of Higher Education has overwhelmingly targeted Muslims. Muslim individuals, have made up 90 percent of those referred to Prevent’s anti-radicalization programme Channel between 2007 and 2010, despite being less than five percent of the population. Prevent definitely encourages racial profiling as Priyamvada Gopal has already suggested in her remarks. Three schools in Barnsley, an area with a high level of English Defence League activity, for example, published risk assessments early this year that stated that the schools were not prone to radicalization or extremism as the cohort were pupils of white British majority. The risk assessments were taken from a template approved by the Prevent team at South Yorkshire Police and led to a number of students being submitted to the authorities in cases in which there was no case to answer.

So to the fourth area of concern. Much of the Prevent duty is being dressed up as a form of safeguarding; helping people who may be vulnerable to radicalization. Many employers are incorporating the Prevent duty into existing safeguarding procedures. Much training asks public sector workers to look for signs of ‘vulnerability’ and ‘radicalization’ in colleagues as well as people under their care; in other words we are being asked to be suspicious of each other. Some of the risk factors specified include: substance and alcohol misuse; peer pressure; influence from older people or via the internet; bullying; crime and anti-social behaviour; domestic violence; family tensions; race or hate crime; lack of self-esteem or identity; grievances (personal or political); migration.

As you can see, this encompasses huge numbers of people who are not in any way connected to terrorism or extremism. The perceived risk of radicalization is highly subjective and open to abuse. UCU feels that this is likely to breed an atmosphere of suspicion, even at august institutions such as this one, providing an almost endless list of identifiers that can be used to label suspect individuals or groups. This approach also potentially deters children, vulnerable people, and students from seeking help, support, or medical advice for fear of being labelled as at risk of radicalization.

Many inappropriate referrals are already being made to Prevent’s anti-radicalization programme Channel; 80% of Channel referrals between 2006 and 2013 were eventually rejected by the Channel panel, showing that many referrers are finding threats where none exist.

Finally, I would like to note the likely chilling effect Prevent will have on legitimate forms of political activity. There are many recorded instances of how Prevent is being used to crack down on legitimate forms of political activity on campuses and elsewhere. Lancaster University’s student union president was targeted by police for displaying pro-Palestinian posters in her office; Prevent officers were involved in shutting down a conference on Islamophobia at Birkbeck University in December 2014; Police in West Yorkshire told over 100 teachers attending Prevent training that they should consider environmental protesters, anti-fracking campaigners and anti-capitalists as potential extremists, citing Green MP Caroline Lucas as an example.

Some of these examples, stretching across schools, further education, and higher education may seem very distant from our situation here at Cambridge University. As Eva Nanopolous2 and Surabhi Ranganathan have already emphasized today, we are justified in viewing our institutions as possesors of good faith and sound judgment. But we will not be immune to the ratchet effects that will and are already being produced by the vagueness of the Prevent duty as it is defined and its broader legal framework. As academics, we operate in the wider world of other HE institutions and public sector organisations and the public culture of this country. There is a strong case for Cambridge using its prestige to make stronger public criticisms of the Prevent duty, and vocally championing the principles of freedom of expression and academic freedom, while doing nothing more than the absolute minimum to comply with the letter of the law on Prevent.


Mr C. H. G. Allen (University Council and King’s College, and President of the Graduate Union):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I’m a Ph.D. student in Computational Toxicology, from King’s College, and I am a member of the University Council and the President of the Graduate Union.

I will try to be brief, as my broader concerns about the insidious, counterproductive Prevent legislation have already been raised by those who have spoken before me.

I will begin by drawing the attention of the Regent House to the minutes of CUSU’s first Prevent Taskforce meeting, held last Wednesday, and available now on the CUSU website ( In attendance were representatives of MCRs, JCRs and University societies, other interested students, as well as Dr Allen on behalf of the University, and Dr Russell on behalf of the Colleges.

The discussion was constructive, and the remarks from Dr Allen and Dr Russell were broadly reassuring – both with regard to the fact that the University takes the concerns of its members about the Prevent strategy very seriously, and has sought to implement its legal duties with as much restraint, sensitivity, and understanding as possible within the obvious limits of the fundamental problems with the legislation.

We cannot pretend that the University and Colleges may disregard their legal duties without consequences. In the case of the Prevent strategy, institutional non-compliance or resistance would most likely result in the pseudo light-touch enforcement being replaced by sterner external pressure and a worse outcome for the members of the University.

This University has stood for over 800 years. The Home Office has lasted for less than a third of that time, and Theresa May’s reign of terror hasn’t yet reached one percent. Governments and their hobby horse legislation come and go and, with luck, and with the continued public engagement of the experts within this University, the Prevent duty may not survive a general election or cabinet reshuffle.

What would be utterly disastrous would be if the University internalized the idea that it owes a duty to treat its students as suspects. The University’s cultural and institutional norms can last for centuries, whether or not they still serve a useful purpose, as proceedings in this Senate-House often demonstrate. I am very concerned at the parasitic nature of the Prevent duty, embedding itself in its hosts via the medium of a specialist committee.

I therefore urge all members of the Regent House, and all College Fellows, to ensure, so far as is possible, that the Prevent duty at their institutions within this University be fulfilled through the various already-existent mechanisms that have worked well at preventing violent extremism at Cambridge.

Where this tactic is impossible, and there are situations where it is impossible, I urge you to channel your concerns into positive but critical engagement with the various Prevent Committees which will begin to spring up across the collegiate University. And don’t forget, as the success of CUSU’s Prevent meeting has demonstrated, some of the most engaged, informed, and critical voices are to be found amongst the student body. It is important that College Governing Bodies seek to include students in their Prevent apparatus beyond a tokenistic gesture fulfilling the minimum legal requirement. Not only will student engagement help to reassure the student body that the governors of the University share their concerns about the strategy, but it will ensure that the mechanisms of Prevent compliance are routinely challenged by outside voices and new perspectives – and are not over time absorbed as an ordinary, if regrettable, part of University business.