The University of Sussex has been forced to change its freedom of speech policy to comply with the Government’s Prevent agenda.
Adam Tickell, the university’s Vice-Chancellor, revealed that Sussex is yet to satisfy demands by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to make their policy fully compliant with the new anti-terrorism strategy to prevent ‘significant legal repercussions’, and also launched a rapid consultation on the policy.
Prevent requires that universities have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism by assessing risks around external speakers on campus. The terms of Prevent have now been made mandatory under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act and came into force on September 19th.
In a series of emails to students and staff, Mr Tickell said: ‘Although we are relooking at our approach, it does not change the imperative that the university must satisfy its regulatory obligations’.
He also stressed the importance of promoting free speech and protecting vulnerable people from extremism, and said he intends to carry out any decisions and changes in an ‘open and transparent environment’.
In response, the Students’ Union organised a student consultation on the university’s approach to Prevent, with students saying that freedom of speech should be guaranteed in the new policy, and that ‘the balance between freedom and protection must be proportional’.
NUS President Malia Bouattia, in a recent interview with the Guardian, said: “When we think about the context in which we’re in, where there’s active demonisation of being politically active, you’ve got the Prevent agenda, which is, like, actually hunting down students that choose to be politicised.
“We’re at a time where things like the Prevent agenda quite explicitly target black and Muslim activists.”
In a scathing attack on Prevent, the Students’ Union said: ‘The Students’ Union executive opposes Prevent and strongly believe in fostering a learning environment which allows all students to organise politically, free from harassment.
Speaking to the Guardian, a Home Office spokesperson said: ‘Prevent is about safeguarding people who are at risk of radicalisation, and prevents those being targeted by extremists and terrorist recruiters. This is challenging but absolutely necessary work.’
Annie Pickering, President of Sussex’s Student Union, said: “The student union stills opposes the government policy of Prevent. The student union response to the university consultation on Prevent and their new Freedom of Speech policy will be available from Monday…We hope that the University will give due consideration to our response and that, with student input, the worst effects of Prevent can be minimised.”