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Universities warn that balance is needed in new anti-terrorism laws

Universities have warned that there must be a balance in the new anti-terrorism legislation between the duty to tackle extremism on campus and the need to protect freedom of speech.

Vice-chancellors are waiting to see to what extend the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, announced on Wednesday November 26 by Home Secretary Theresa May, will affect the sector.

It places a statutory duty on named organisations - such as colleges, universities, the police and probation providers - to help deter radicalisation. Where organisations fail, ministers will be able to issue court-enforced directions to them.

A Universities UK (UUK) spokesman said that as there were no detailed measures in the bill, institutions must wait for statutory guidance, which will set out the specific steps they need to take to meet the requirement to counter radicalism on campus.

UUK, which launched a website last year to give advice, information and resources to address violent extremism and advise specifically on issues around external speakers, will be involved in drafting the guidance, which will also be subject to public consultation.

“Universities take the issue of violent extremism very seriously,” the spokesman said. “The sector has... strong partnerships with the police and security services.

"In examining the detail of the Bill, universities will want to ensure that there is a balance between the need to tackle terrorism and violent extremism and the need to protect freedom of speech.”

The University and College Union also emphasised a duty to “promote academic freedom” in its response to the new bill.

A spokesperson said: ‘Universities and colleges have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their students and staff and not to allow activities which are intended to foment hatred or violence, or to recruit support for unlawful activities such as terrorism. At the same time, universities and colleges rightly cherish, and must continue to promote, academic freedom as a key tenet of a civilized society.  It is essential to our democracy that all views are open to debate and challenge within the law.”

A National Union of Students spokesperson said that universities already operated in a strong legal framework and that any new duties must be proportionate.

“NUS and students’ unions do not tolerate extremist activity taking place on campuses, and we have already published extensive guidance for students’ unions on how to evaluate external speakers and how to mitigate any risks,” she said.

“NUS is committed to ensuring that all students’ feel safe on campus and that any new statutory legislation is not used to demonise a specific community but to combat the wider concerns around extremism”.

 

 

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