As part of the government’s revamped Prevent strategy, British universities have been ordered to inform the police about Muslim students who may be vulnerable to radicalisation due to feelings of depression or isolation. According to the new guidance for countering Islamist radicalism, students reported at being “at risk” will then be monitored and Scotland Yard will assess any terrorist threat. However, the students will not be made aware of this investigation. The backdrop to this new focus on universities is the realisation that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallabhad, who has come to be known as the “underpants bomber” of Christmas 2009, had studied at the University College London.
The new guidance has resulted in discomfort amongst both lecturers and student unions who are concerned about the infringement of students’ civil liberties. As the Guardian reports, the National Union of Students, for instance, instructed their officers to not provide the police with details about students unless they presented a warrant. Similarly, James Haywood, president of Goldsmiths college student union, said he was appalled to be asked to spy on Muslim students. The University and College Union criticised the new strategy for risking to damage the relationship between staff and students. Similarly, Ted Cantle warned of the risk to stigmatise Muslims. Despite these criticisms, however, the Home Office defended the new strategy and expressed the expectation on universities to play their role in achieving its objectives.