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Behind the HE headlines is one key question – the purpose of universities

The past week’s higher education news demonstrates that there are certain expectations of universities that policymakers, HE leaders and the Augar review are expected to address, says Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of the Engineering Professors’ Council and Chief Executive of outreach organisation Push .

30 VCs sign new Civic University Agreement

Leaders of thirty universities have signed a Civic University Agreement, reaffirming their institution's commitment to their local communities by pledging to put the economy and quality of life in their home towns and cities at the top of their list of priorities.

How to improve the student experience -- ask the students themselves

Jenny Shaw , Student Experience Director at Unite Students, draws lessons on the higher education sector's efforts to improve the student experience from a week of HE news and views.

HEi-think: Why universities should support two year degrees

From this September, students will be able to opt to study an accelerated two year degree, as opposed to a traditional three year course. Professor Malcolm Todd, Provost (Academic) at the University of Derby, discusses why universities should consider the change in legislation and look to offer accelerated degrees.

HEi-think: An evidence-based approach to tackling radicalisation on campus

As radicalisation on campus hits the headlines again with news of the identity and university education of Islamic State executioner "Jihadi John",  the Reverend Dr Paul Fitzpatrick, chaplain and Prevent co-ordinator at Cardiff Metropolitan University, outlines protocols developed by his institution to tackle radicalisation that have been approved by the Home Office and are to be rolled out to universities across the UK.

 

Even before the publication of the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill, there were at least seven - often contradictory - legislative requirements placed on universities for tackling extremism on campus.

At Cardiff Met, we quickly realised that there was little current research that directly helped us design and implement our own Prevent agenda and policies. So we as a team would need to conduct our own research, particularly exploring how vulnerable students were groomed and radicalised.

From our research we have developed a Prevent policy that will be run out across Wales, and then templated by the Home Office for England. It is the result of a realistic understanding of the individual risk to our universities.

The process and policies in the framework we have produced have to encompass the mundane as well as the difficult.

This week, for instance, I met a Muslim student to talk about her project on terrorist risk management within public events.  Using the protocols set out in our Prevent policy, I guided her through the process of applying for ethical approval and registered her work with our ‘Security Sensitive Databased” to ensure her safety and the reputational security of the university.

In another example of the Prevent policy in action, I recently asked the International Office Welfare Team to review the list of students from conflict zones. Students from such areas are regarded as particularly vulnerable to potential radicalisation and manipulation.

One of the team had just got back from visiting the flat of a group of Ukrainian and Russian students who have deliberately chosen to live together to express their mutual respect and their support for peace keeping efforts in the region. She reported that all was well.

To give staff the tools to deal with these kinds of situations, we have developed a very broad and evidenced based training package for all staff.  Underpinned by an e-module, the training is lecture based and includes the grooming process, risk assessment, radical ideology and a Police briefing on risk assessment. Staff are encouraged to engage fully with the process and initial feedback has been very positive.

It is a comfortable option to quote ‘free speech’ or moral/ethical complexity to justify none engagement with this agenda, and whilst acknowledging the real difficulties these dilemmas present, we have clearly chosen a different approach. Our response has been governed by what we consider to be our lead responsibility; the protection of our students and staff from those who would hurt them.

Dr Paul Fitzpatrick
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