University staff including lecturers, chaplains and porters are being asked to inform the police about Muslim students who are depressed or isolated under new guidance for countering Islamist radicalism. The move has resulted in deep discomfort among university lecturers and student union officials who wish to combat terrorism but say the new strategy is an infringement of students’ civil liberties.
Officials implementing the government’s revamped Prevent strategy are training frontline university employees in how to spot students vulnerable to extremism. Documents handed to staff claim that students who seem depressed or who are estranged from their families, who bear political grievances, or who use extremist websites or have poor access to mainstream religious instruction could be at risk of radicalisation.
The National Union of Students has told its officers that they do not have to provide police with details about students unless they are presented with a warrant.
Local authority workers and police officers have been introducing the new strategy over the last month. Inquiries by the Guardianshow that colleges in Lancashire and London have been approached by police and local authorities.
James Haywood, president of Goldsmiths college students’ union in south-east London, met two Prevent officials last week. He said they began by asking about Muslim students and whether the college had problems with its Islamic Society.
“We were appalled to have Prevent officers asking us to effectively spy on our Muslim students. To pass on details of a student who the police consider ‘vulnerable’ is not only morally repugnant but is against the confidential nature of pastoral support. After the rise of hate groups such as the English Defence League, and the recent massacre in Norway, why are Prevent not also telling us to refer on students who have an irrational hatred of Islam?” he said.