New guidance to help universities prevent extremism

Published: 09 Feb 2017

A short guide to help universities in England protect students while balancing their duties under equality and human rights law has been published today.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, together with Equality Challenge Unit and Universities UK, has produced this guidance to support universities comply with the Prevent duty. This duty requires higher education institutions to have systems in place to identify, challenge and address extremism while protecting vulnerable staff and students.

There has been concern that the Prevent duty could be implemented in ways which might discriminate, stigmatise or alienate certain groups of students or staff, or undermine rights, including by restricting free speech and academic freedom.

This guide will help universities mitigate these concerns. It provides practical advice on how universities can use the requirements of the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) and of the Human Rights Act to deliver the Prevent duty in a fair and proportionate way for everyone.

Equality and Human Rights Commission Chief Executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said:

"Universities are the bedrock of free speech. We need a campus culture where students and staff feel confident expressing who they are and what they believe in.

"They must also ensure public security, and it is therefore vital that they are able to identify and challenge extremism through Prevent. With this guide, universities will be able to use the Prevent duty while fulfilling their responsibilities under equality and human rights law.” 

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

“Universities take their role in preventing people from being drawn into terrorism and their responsibilities under the Prevent duty seriously. At the same time, they have duties to secure freedom of speech within the law and in relation to equality and human rights legislation. We hope this guidance will assist universities in fulfilling these many obligations, while doing so in a proportionate and fair way.”

Gary Loke, Deputy Chief Executive of the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) said:

“Higher education institutions have a responsibility to promote debate and discussion to further learning and research while challenging extremism. At the same time, they must promote good campus relations, and have a duty of care to their staff and students. This guidance will help institutions to address these different responsibilities.”

The guidance provides working examples of how equality and human rights considerations should be factored into Prevent action plans when dealing with situations such as contentious events, which could pose security risks.

Notes to editors

Read the guidance: Delivering the Prevent duty in a proportionate and fair way.

This guide is relevant to higher education providers in England only. The Commission is currently considering developing similar content for stakeholders in Scotland and Wales.

Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) supports higher education institutions across the UK and colleges in Scotland to advance equality and diversity for staff and students.

ECU provides research information and guidance, training, events and Equality Charters that drive forward change and transform organisational culture in teaching, learning, research and knowledge exchange. We have over ten years’ experience of supporting institutions to remove barriers to progression and success for all staff and students.

ECU is funded by the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and Universities UK, and through direct subscription from higher education institutions in England and Northern Ireland. For more information visit the ECU website or follow @EqualityInHE on Twitter.

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