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Why UK's 'Prevent' programme doesn't work

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In 2015, a new statutory duty was placed upon universities across the UK: to remain vigilant to signs of extremism. A set of guidelines, dubbed "Prevent", were introduced to oblige universities to carry out risk assessments on the chances of students being drawn into "extremism", as well as to train staff on how to "challenge extremist ideas". These punitive and excessive policy measures, imposed by the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act of 2015, are aiming to transform academics into counterterrorism practitioners.

But, unsurprisingly, "Prevent" is failing. A recent study I was involved in showed that academic faculty are not comfortable with fulfilling such duties. Academics are not specialised police officers that can assess and respond to extremist threats. And, on top of not helping to curb "extremism" in universities across the UK in any substantial way, these measures are also endangering basic academic freedoms.

When I took part in the Home Office's counterterrorism e-learning training package, I was first presented with questions and explanations of the meaning of "terrorism". Then, possible "indicators" that I should "look out for" as part of my role in helping to combat extremism were introduced. For example, "absenteeism", "crying" and "unhealthy use of the Internet" were listed as some of the behaviours that may be "a cause for concern". The suggestion was simple: If individuals display these behaviours, then they may be in danger of extremism, and you should report them.

These so-called "indicators" for extremism are further detailed in the Channel Duty Guidance (the government's guidelines on how to report suspicious behaviours). In the guidance, 22 broad-ranging criteria that may indicate........

© Al Jazeera