TIME: 13:00 – 14:00, 21st March 2017
VENUE: Committee Room 5, House of Commons
Palace of Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA
Research Fellow, Henry Jackson Society
Head of Strategic Development,
Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)
Regional Higher Education Prevent Coordinator,
Department of Education
Jim Fitzpatrick MP
Jim Fitzpatrick MP: Right, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks very much for being here. I’m glad to be hosting this discussion at the invitation of the Student’s Rights Organisation which I have supported previously. Our three speakers are: Rupert, who’s going to give us an overview of the findings of the new student’s rights report; Miss Jessica Trahar from the Higher Education Funding Council for England on how institutions have responded to the new responsibilities and Mr Sam Slack on how HE coordinators can help HE institutions fulfil these legal responsibilities.
We’ll go straight over to Rupert and ask you to open the proceedings.
Rupert Sutton: Ok. Thanks very much Jim, and thanks to everyone for coming today.
In September 2015, the duty imposed on to higher education institutions to have due regard to the need to prevent individuals from being drawn into terrorism by the Counter-terrorism and Security Act 2015 came into force. A few months later, at an event in parliament, we discussed this issue with Professor Geoff Petts, the Vice Chancellor at Westminster University and Jessica’s predecessor about how the sector was coming to terms with the new duty. Now, one requirement of this was that the majority of English providers submitted their policies for dealing with events to the Higher Education Funding Council by April the following year. Following this, Student Rights began requesting copies of university speaker policies, in an attempt to understand how seriously the sector was taking the issue. They only asked English institutions for reasons that I can go into in the Q&A, if necessary. We were able to see 76 policies and we assessed these against 20 questions based on advice outlined within the prevent duty guidelines given to all higher education providers. These questions examined the policies frameworks so how they outlined the legal responsibilities that providers had and the policy scope. The application processes, so how they dealt with a request for a speaker and the risk assessment and mitigation tools that they put in place. We gave policies a maximum of one point for each question and the resulting scores produced a number of findings.
I think that the most significant finding for us was the overwhelmingly positive way in which the sector had responded. We felt that this was evident in the high scores achieved by institutions. Well over half the policies provided to us scored 10 points or more, so at least 50 per cent. The average score was 11.3, so 56.5 per cent. Of the 76 policies, nearly a fifth scored at least 15 points, so they were getting at least 75 per cent. The most common score fell around this. It fell between 70-80 per cent. 25 per cent of policies fell into that. When we broke the questions down and asked just six questions about what we felt were the fundamentals of the speaker policy, over half of the institutions scored 75 per cent, with a small number fulfilling all six criteria. In addition, and perhaps what we felt was more interesting was that those institutions that we felt had historically faced the biggest challenges from the presence of extreme or intolerant speakers on campus, were assessed as having some of the highest scoring policies. The five institutions which we found held the most events between January 2012 and December 2015, on average, scored 15.4 so 77 per cent, suggesting that they had sought to ensure that the risks posed were effectively mitigated while events could continue to go ahead. So, making sure that they were keeping their commitment to freedom of expression, but also fulfilling their commitment that they were to keep students safe. I think for us, we felt that this was an overwhelmingly positive finding.
There were some small concerns. Around 40 per cent of policies were assessed to have demonstrated potentially inadequate structures to prevent organisers from concealing information about speakers. This was an issue that we had seen come up at universities. For example, at Queen Mary University, the process around the events found that students were trying to hide information about particular speakers. Actually, in this case, because Queen Mary had such an effective policy, they were able to recognise this and mitigate that risk. In this case there were sanctions to the society involved too, preventing the society from holding events for a certain period of time. In addition, a number of policies, a smaller number were assessed as to be unsure as to how they would check the information that was provided to them about the speaker. Just four policies fell into the category of both, so they didn’t have effective processes or application forms and they didn’t say how they would look at those application forms. This suggests that there was a small potential for abuse of those policies.
We also felt that there was a sector-wide inconsistency on risk assessment levels within these policies. Only around 15 per cent classified speakers into particularly detailed categories, rather than just saying if a speaker poses a risk or doesn’t pose a risk. Now that’s not to say that these universities don’t have such policies, but it perhaps means that it’s not publically available. So, perhaps there’s a transparency issue around how they make their decisions or what it is that they’re looking for in a speaker that might lead to conditions being imposed on an event. At only two universities we found specifically linked risk levels to a particular set of mitigation conditions. So, saying that if a speaker was high risk then these are the conditions that we would like to see imposed on an event. Now, the suggestion within the prevent duty guidance were that speakers with extremist views that could draw people into terrorism are challenged with opposing views as part of the same event that they appear at was absent, we felt, in too many of these policy mitigation practices. So, while more than half of policies included at least one condition which would see speakers challenged – a Q&A session or an independent chair. Only 21 per cent, around 16 of the policies stipulated that the event could have an additional speaker present. Now, this is a condition that we’ve talked about for some time. That balancing platforms is the best way to mitigate risk. It is certainly something that student organisations have talked about as well. There are particular issues around cost or potential delays could be attached to events if this was imposed. But it certainly is something that we’d like to see more universities consider as a potential option in the future.
With those findings, and overwhelmingly positive findings, what are some of the things that we’re recommending in this report?
The first thing that we’re asking that policies look to go beyond the bare minimum in information provision. So, some policies failed to address the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism in that particular policy or provide details of proscribed organisations within a policy. So, whilst almost all policies said members of proscribed groups shouldn’t appear on campuses. They didn’t then go on to give information to find out who those proscribed groups were. We felt that this was something that these policies could look to include. In this case, it could give staff and students the ability to make the most informed decision when applying to host an event or when looking at the application process and decided what conditions to impose on an event.
We felt that where there was a risk of clarity, on the risk levels of mitigation tools that would go side-to-side with that. We’ve suggested that providers perhaps ensure that their publically available policies include much more detail about the risk assessment processes used by staff and lift any associated conditions which could be imposed on events. Giving organisers a good idea of what conditions they could expect. As I said, a number of policies did do this, but this is something that we would like to see more consistently across the sector. For example, we think that this could include ensuring that if you do have a high risk speaker that automatically triggers a balanced platform at the event. Turning the event into a debate, though obviously institutions would have to take their own particular context into account there. It is not something that we say should be a blanket requirement. The universities would fail to do their duty if they weren’t doing this.
We think, ultimately, that the government should work with the sector to address the widespread concerns about Prevent and freedom of expression and really highlight the ways that these policies drill down into how universities can balance their competing legal requirements. The vast majority of policies were excellent on highlighting freedom of speech requirements that the universities have. One thing that we could perhaps see is that there be more consultation between government and universities about how concerns about freedom of speech can be raised. Meanwhile, one of the issues that came up was the Prevent duty guidance which asks universities to fully mitigate the risks at these events. Mitigation of risk at universities is one of the key things that universities try to do but there’s a number of individuals at universities including Vice-Chancellors who have significant concerns about whether they could ever fully-mitigate the risk at an event. Perhaps that could be changed to say that if they have mitigated it to the best of their ability.
I think ensuring that the extremists face robust challenges and that institutions mitigate the greatest risks possible, will always be a difficult balance to strike, particularly when there is such a strong freedom of expression requirement at universities. But I do think that the findings of this report may be positive that the sector has responded well to this challenge. I hope it will continue to do so in the future.
Jim: Rupert, thanks very much. I’m sure there will be some questions afterwards.
Our next speaker is Jessica Traher, who is Strategic Development Head at the HEFCE and she leads the Prevent team. As I mentioned at the beginning, she’s going to give us some advice on how institutions have responded to the new responsibilities, how the sector will be regulated in coming years. Jessica, welcome.
Jessica Traher: Thank you. Thanks for inviting me. I’ve seen a draft of the report, I should say. It’s really helpful to see the work that the HJS has undertaken in relation to adherence to speakers policies at higher education institutions. I’m pleased to see that there’s positive findings coming out of the report. I guess I would say that the model in events of speakers policies is just one resource that universities can draw upon. They are autonomous institutions so in our engagement with them from a regulatory point of view, we’ve been keen to emphasise that policies should reflect each institutions particular context.
There is, inevitably, some variation in approaches whilst still adhering to the statutory guidance. But I thought it would be helpful just to give you a quick overview of the work that we have been doing with the HE sector since the Prevent duty came into force in September 2015. We’re not monitoring 321 relevant higher education bodies as they’re defined by the legislation and this covers the diversity of the sector. It includes universities but also alternative providers of higher education and within universities we separately monitor all of the halls and colleges of Oxford, Cambridge and Durham. This contributes to the rather large figure of 321. Taking into account that diversity, I think we have been very conscious to say that context is critical and that no one size fits all.
The duty was obviously introduced in 2015 and just as a note of caution, in terms of that diversity of that sector, I think that universities had been engaged with the Prevent agenda for about four of five years before the duty was legally introduced but the alternative provider sector was coming from a very different base. That’s guided some of our interaction with the institutions. We’ve worked really closely with government with the Department for Education and the Home Office in our approach to regulating the sector. We’ve also worked very closely with key sector bodies such as Universities UK and Independent HE who represent the alternative providers and also with sector representative bodies. We’ve tried to do this very collaboratively whilst ensuring that providers are effectively and robustly adhering to the statutory guidance. We’ve also worked closely with the Leadership Foundation for HE and have funded some training materials which have been rolled out across the sector. These have just been evaluated and I think approved, very helpful to the sector in terms of meeting the requirements of the duty. So generally, and I think as this reflected in the report that’s launched today, there is engagement with the sector in a positive way.
In the first year, so pretty much the last actual 18 months or so, are role was focused on ensuring that the providers had a baseline of policies and procedures in place in relation to Prevent and that covered the seven key themes in the guidance including external speakers and events. We worked very closely with the sector to ensure that they understood the requirements of them. Where we saw more limited engagement with the duty, we put in place action plans with such providers, to ensure that they proved their approach was in line with the requirements of the duty. Back in January we published an overview of our findings from the first 18 months of activity. Setting out what we’d found from assessing a great volume of information from all of those 321 providers. We’ve found that the majority of providers satisfied the requirements of the guidance. That’s around 84 per cent. A total of 15 per cent needed to improve some aspects of their policies and procedures in this area. We’ve since worked very closely with them and their action plans to ensure that they now meet the requirements of the duty. Only two providers did not satisfy us at that time. We’ve worked closely with these providers and one is actually no longer subject to that duty. So, it’s a very small minority that we’ve found were not adhering to the guidance.
Specifically on external speakers and events. Providers showed a strong understanding of their responsibilities around freedom of speech. We felt that they’d responded pragmatically to the requirements of the duty. Most providers were balancing their responsibilities with Prevent and freedom of speech by putting in place strong policies in assessing and managing the risks around any speaker or event. 93 per cent of providers demonstrated that they already had robust policies in place. As Rupert’s touched upon stronger policies clearly documented those mitigating actions taken in order to allow events to proceed safely. Also, there is some evidence that different types of providers are documenting their policies around speakers in a proper and proportionate way. I think it’s important to mention that speakers and events policies form one element of broader procedures relating to Prevent. So, in many cases and particularly for universities they have incorporated their approach into existing policies and procedures and that’s particularly true for speakers at events but also for welfare and safeguarding.
We’re now moving to a more steady state of monitoring and have just begun the first round of annual reporting so providers have to submit an annual report to us demonstrating how they are actively implementing the duty on an ongoing basis. We’ve finished an assessment of higher education providers that are funded by HEFCE, so pretty much the university sector, excluding the Oxbridge colleges that I mentioned earlier. We’re just in the process of assessing reports from alternative providers. Again, we’ve found that this process has been pretty positive. The universities are taking this seriously. The majority we have found are demonstrating due regard to the duty and we’ve found within the annual reports that there was a wealth of evidence provided which showed a higher level of engagement in the sector. Plus reflections on that first year of implementation what had worked well and what had not worked so well. Universities putting in place approaches to improve policies based on their experience of implementing them. So, now this process is beginning to be complete. It will form a main tenet to a risk-based approach to monitoring. So for those who we’ve had little concern about following the duty, we will be a little bit more hands off and we will have more engagement with those who have more outstanding issues.
Just a couple of other things to mention. We’re also working very closely with institutions in looking for them to share areas of practice around key things that we think that they’re still struggling with. We’ve kicked off two themes of work around IT and web filtering and a second shortly on welfare, engaging with students and local authorities.
Finally, we as the monitor have begun a light touch evaluation of our role and are seeking feedback from the sector on how we have helped them go about implementing their duty.
Jim: Jessica, thanks very much. It’s really interesting, very helpful to the discussion. From a chair’s point of view even more importantly, both of our first two speakers kept perfectly to time so you have something to live up to now. No pressure, Sam. He’s here to talk about how HE coordinators can help individual institutions fulfil their responsibilities and having been the regional coordinator in East Midlands and for the last two years also been covering the North East of England. Sam, welcome.
Sam Slack: Thank you. Ladies and gentleman, if I could just give you a brief insight into the role of the Department of Education coordinators. Our role is to support further and higher education. We particularly work with universities in relation to all aspects of the Prevent statutory duty arising from the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act. Our role is a supportive one. It’s not a regulatory one. And that’s a position I see as somewhere between the universities themselves and the regulator so that we can offer them an opportunity to explore how well they’re doing, to give them feedback around how they’re delivering parts of that duty and to try and help them develop good practice and share good practice across the areas that work. The one that is really important to state is that in relation to freedom of speech and the external speakers at events in respect of the duty our role we see is being one to enable debate and not to stifle or disrupt it or to seek to cancel it. All that we have set out to do from the outset, is to try and enable good debate across a broad range of subjects and one or two of them in particular are the ones that frequently cause the difficulties. We see ourselves in an enabling role. Not one that’s a sort of blocking or disruptive role.
It’s probably also important to point out that the duty that the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act places on universities in relation to speakers at events is actually a very very high threshold. The risk of drawing people into terrorism goes way way beyond a lot of lower levels offences. The duty in all honesty only applies to a very small number of events. The procedures that are in place are that universities in most cases have had for years. They are applied across a range of events. But the ones that apply to the Prevent strategy duty that fit within the definition of that actually end up being quite a small number. There are probably many many more events that are subject to disagreement about them going ahead that are really nothing to do with the Prevent statutory duty.
Student unions are not subject to the Prevent statutory duty, it’s a duty on the university itself. This creates an interesting dynamic when the vast majority of speaker events are in fact organised by student unions and their societies and what this requires between ourselves and universities is really good dialogues and really good relations with the student unions.
You could probably break our role down into how we support the universities into three areas. We support them with checks, of speakers and of organisations that are going to be delivering speeches at events on campus. We assist them with open source checks. Student unions in particular that don’t have a high degree of expertise and that’s a generalisation but a lot of student unions, their staffing are engaged in a wide range of responsibilities and therefore don’t have a great degree of expertise. What we’re able to offer them is that confidential conversation between organisations. Where universities might want to be a little bit more probing with the information that they’re given. We work with the police, we work with local authorities and we work with local organisations that support the sector, and we try to bring together that good advice. We offer advice to universities and to student unions directly on a regular basis since before the duty came in. In many cases we have got some good relationships with student unions despite much of what you might read in the media about the NUS approach being fairly distinct in their views on it. In fact, many student unions have been very willing to engage and willing to talk about what might be useful conditions. How they might mitigate the risk in events, for instance. This has been something in terms of conversations that has been going on for some considerable time. We deliver training where universities or student unions want it so we could deliver bespoke training and as a group of ten, we’ve developed over the last ten years a package of training that is delivered to student societies in particular, that helps them to plan and deliver those events. So, it gives them a generic set of skills that helps them to plan the event and recognise some of the skills that empowers them to put on good events and to come up with what the problems might be in advance. It also helps the chairs to have the skills to deliver events when sometimes they might have very charismatic, very powerful speakers about very difficult subjects. It’s about empowering them to be able to manage those events, on the evening or on the day as well as in advance of.
In the East Midlands, one of the things that I’ve been trying this year is operating what we call an independent chairs panel. If universities or if student unions are wanting to bring in an independent chair and they might not necessarily see someone from within the university staff as that independent, what I’ve been able to offer them is a group of people from across the region that would be willing to step in that have a range of skills and background, and the students themselves can choose from that list and make their own direct contact. Thus, all I’m really doing is trying to facilitate a lot of experienced and skilled people to help them that are independent, if they feel that in those circumstances it is required. This helps them put themselves in a good position in terms of organising the event and not necessarily having to rely upon the universities.
Finally, looking forward, some of the recommendations in the Student Rights report I can see as being really helpful as something that myself and colleagues will be taking to the sector in trying to embed and look to see how we can maybe make some changes and assist with that. Off-campus events are something that certainly do cause some concern. For instance, the worry that too many events are going to be pushed off-campus because of too many onerous conditions being applied to them. In the case of at least one example that I’m aware of where a student union has moved the event to student union premises to try and avoid compliances with event statutory duties so the university doesn’t have a remit over it. That’s a really complicated area because different student unions have different leasing and different arrangements with different universities. This is certainly something that I think we need to be wary of for the future because moving off-campus and moving into areas where there’s less governance and compliance suggests that events may not necessarily be as well-run or reflective, and that really is what we’re looking for. The only other thing, looking to the future is to utilise Skyping events, getting speakers from around the world involved and to ensure that we manage those properly. It’s becoming gradually more popular and there are attempts for that to happen and I’m sure as technology develops, that will happen more and more and it brings with it a set of risks and considerations and that is something that we will be trying to assist the sector with. I think on that note, I’ll end there.
Jim: Well done, Sam. Thank you very much.
Right, ladies and gentlemen. We have perhaps 20-25 minutes for comments and questions. You’ve had the three presentations on the report, the role of the Higher Education Funding Council and the practical support that Sam and his colleagues have been delivering. If you could just show hands and I will call you as best I can. We’ll take you in groups of three.
Question 1 from man in audience: One of the main criticisms is the definition of what constitutes ‘extremism. I was just wondering what you thought about the difficulty in defining what this and other key terms are and further about who actually fits into these categories. Is there a risk that these definitions could be either too lax or too draconian?
Jeff Woods: I have family that are involved with universities. My question is to everyone on the panel. There are two issues that I read about recently. I would be interested to know whether they were monitored and, if not, should they have been. One of which was the vilification of Cecil Rhodes and the other was the Israel Apartheid Week.
Jonathan Hotham: I campaign against anti-Semitism. I’m a former Board of Deputies Defence Division representative. What the universities say and what the universities do is completely different. They are not, in the main part, respecting Prevent. They are supposed to do a risk assessment. They are supposed to do vetting. They are supposed to get speakers to counter extremism. That’s not happening. Last night, for example, they had Richard Falk at LSE, which was a farce.
Jim: Thanks very much for those. Can we have more questions from the audience?
Euan Grant: Yeah, thanks very much for that. I was with Customs and Excise. I covered transnational organised crime. I did deal with some terrorism issues but only on the fringes. I have worked in the Middle East. I can assure the gentleman just now that having policies about proper governance and compliance and actually implementing them are two different things. When I worked for the C&E, we were in such a bad way professionally that they had to bring in people from the agencies in order to help us. The person that they brought into my unit was Mr Andrew Parker. The current head of the Security Services.
My question is for all of you but essentially on the funding. You said that the universities and colleges are providing comments about what’s working well and what isn’t. Could you give us a few examples?
Question from man in audience named Roseland: All three speakers struck me as very strong on concepts. What interested me was when Sam talked about the threshold for terrorism and budget. If the gentleman opposite me says that there are actual examples of universities where policies and politics become dealt with in a way quite different from a parliamentary democracy, I’d like to have a little information about it. What I sense, from the right hand side of the speakers is that this topic is so politicallt sensitive that the concepts are safe but the examples are more risky.
Michael (HJS Member): It’s very rare that the UJS will ever have anybody that they will have a speaker that needs vetting at the university because they will have people who are open-minded. Now, what this leads to is a wide mob at the university invading what was otherwise a structured and positive meeting. So, the students themselves are quite terrified for their safety. How does this fit in with what you’re doing because I think it’s a very important element?
Jim: Sam, can we start with you? Then Jessica and finally Rupert.
Sam: Concerning Apartheid Week and the Cecil Rhodes statue, they’re difficult issues to manage and put interpretation around. I am not aware personally that there has been any great difficulties beyond what you might expect with hosting events around these difficult issues and the sharing of views around these difficult issues. Part of some of the nature of these events is actually that people’s viewpoints are going to be challenged. People will sometimes be made to feel uncomfortable around that. I think that we live with that. I do think that these procedures and the way that they are being interpreted, generally speaking, are working well. There have been some difficulties recently around Apartheid Week. But, I think that the universities have demonstrated an ability to handle those difficult events and to conduct the risk assessments in relation to them.
If I might move on to the point about us being strong on certain concepts. We may have given that impression given the limited time that we have had to talk today. It certainly goes beyond concepts. Some universities are much more robust than others and that’s absolutely understandable. The duty allows individual interpretation. If we recognise that universities across the UK are all very different in their make up and also in the way that they apply the duty. HEFCE as a regulatory have really been strong on allowing universities to make those decisions. What I see, in my role, is that it goes way beyond concepts. Universities are actually interpreting, in some cases, to the absolute letter. That causes them some real difficulties. It isn’t just a concept that’s held up. There’s a policy and procedure. It goes way beyond that. Where events, for whatever reason, may appear from the side and may miss out on some of those procedures actually the universities work quite hard to try and ensure that this doesn’t happen again in future. I’ve seen this happening in relation to commercial events and it’s perhaps in the past not been as well joined up. There is a real ethic to make sure that other events don’t slip through the net. Apologies if it came across as that. Actually, in practice, universities work really hard to ensure that that happens and it does go just beyond a concept.
In relation to the question about a mob invading events, I think we are aware that on occasions that’s happened. Let’s not restrict that to universities. This is something that happens across society, where people have really strong views. They sometimes don’t like the views of other people on these matters and they sometimes don’t even like the subject. They will protest against it and I think we can expect that to continue to happen. How it happens, it certainly shouldn’t be happening in an environment and a manner that we would describe universities as allowing students to be terrified by those sorts of events. I don’t think that happens very often at all. I think that if we look at the absolutely vast number of events that are held on campus, the tiny number that cause those sorts of difficulties that we might call a public order difficulty, I think that they’re an absolutely tiny number. Some of the conversations that we have had with universities and with the student unions are about trying to get people to engage in dialogue, prior to event if necessary. This is to make sure that some of those representative groups and societies that may be offended by, that may really disagree with some of the subject matter or some of the individuals themselves that are going to stand at an event actually that additionally conversations are going to take place outside of the event by different parties and maybe in a less highly charged environment. So, the event can still go ahead and people can still share those views. However, maybe some of the dialogue can take place in maybe a safer way away from the event, and that, on occasion, has been helpful.
Jessica: I’ll continue from Sam’s point of view. I’ll probably talk about concepts and then come back to examples. But, I think the health and safety aspect is one thing that we’ve asked universities to really keep thinking about. A lot of universities will be putting in place stewards or ticketing events to make sure things are much more controlled in terms of who attends and they can balance some of the risks around that. As Sam says, those sorts of things happen in a minority. We have a wealth of examples of universities working really hard to try and enable events to go ahead by putting in place those mitigating factors. That will come out in the report as well. In terms of concepts, yes, from a regulatory point of view, we have been looking at policies and procedures at that type of level. But, as we’re getting into testing if those are being implemented effectively, we’re asking universities and alternative providers to give us specific examples of how these policies and procedures are working in practice.
There’s another question around what has and has not been working well. In terms of what’s working well, engagement with students, I think as Sam has covered, has come through really strongly. Positive engagement with students too though not just on events and speakers but across the entire Prevent duty. Ensuring that there is consultation with students, that they’re communicated regular to those they apply to. Staff training has made a real difference sector. This has been driven by the statutory guidance. This includes their events and speakers policies but also welfare and safeguarding. I think much clearer communication within the institution around these types of policies has really come out strongly. In terms of things that haven’t worked so well, it’s where there have been new policies and procedures put in place that there have been teething problems. There might have been an event that slipped through the net or something happened. It could have been a health and safety issue, for example. In the event, the universities show us how they have reflected on what happened and then adapted their processes. So, I should say that if there’s a serious incident that happens at a university in relation to Prevent, the university will talk to us about what happened and we will quite robustly investigate with them, if their policies and procedures failed and if they’re going to put in place improvements to those procedures.
Rupert: I think that the first thing that I would look at is how universities have responded to the definitions around extremism and terrorism. Certainly something that comes up often in criticism of Prevent that we see from students is that it is vague in defining what ‘extremism’ is. When we were going through the policies, that in most cases where it had been defined, it was simply back to government definitions. However, in some cases it was tied in with the universities values. It just so happened that they were often linked with British values like the government definition so often definitions ended up being the same thing. What we did notice though was that a small number of policies did not include that definition of ‘extremism’. I think that comes back to the point I made earlier in perhaps looking to include as much information in the public policy as possible. This is to enable the person who was considering putting on an event to have all of the detail at their disposal. I think including definitions and how the university defines extremism in the policy could potentially help that.
On the question of issues that have brought up in recent weeks, particularly around Israel Apartheid Week. I think one thing that is interesting is to see universities which are the subject of the same duty responding in different ways. This perhaps highlights that in some cases they had taken their policy to the letter so an event that they consider to have the potential to cause harm might be cancelled outright, so we’ve seen events which were thought could have seen students be harassed by individuals, for example, mock checkpoints, were either moved or cancelled. Whereas events that were on balanced platforms, with speakers who have a history of extreme or intolerant views went ahead with mitigating processes put in place or that would have aimed to put mitigating processes in place. How that actually occurs on the night is something that is difficult for universities to see. Some events may go fine and others may perhaps get a little heated than the university would like. I think as we go further away from the duty being imposed, I think and I would hope that the universities would attempt to have these events and we would see what happens, what are the flashpoints and which speakers are the most controversial at events.
In relation to students being terrified at events by mobs. I think that this is one of the things with which the universities have been caught a bit of guard. In that, they have a speaker who on the face of things has no history of extreme or intolerant views but when they turn up at an event there are 200 protestors waiting for them. This creates a situation which is very difficult for student organisers of such an event to handle if they guidance from universities. I think that whenever we talk about these issues now we have to tell universities to consider that this is something that potentially could happen and to consider it as one of the main risks that you’re likely to see at these events to ensure that there is security so that these events do go ahead. Potentially making very clear what the consequences will be for the students who do disrupt those events. Some of the things that we looked at in the speakers policies were what the disciplinary processes would be around providing false information to allow events to go ahead. One of the main things that actually comes out in speaker policies is that if you disrupt an event and stop the speaker from speaking or stop the event from going ahead, this is actually something the university takes very seriously as well because it can potentially undermine a university’s ability to deliver freedom of expression for invited speakers.
I think finally around the point on what universities say and do being very different and not respecting Prevent. One area that we’re very keen to see is that understanding universities behaviour around Prevent incorporates the whole of Prevent duty. Encouraging decision-makers to talk to university vice-chancellors who are very critical of Prevent duty around events but who love the idea of the Prevent duty around safeguarding and think that it’s great they have been linked into the local safeguarding networks so they can understand what services are available for people who might be at risk and so they know who to speak to if they have concerns rather than just calling the police. They like that. What they are more concerned about is the grey areas around freedom of expression on campus. For us, what we’d hope is that there is better coordination between governments and universities about how they can perhaps change understandings and point out that actually the events issue is as much about safeguarding as the referrals issue.
Jim: Thank you, Rupert.
David Lewis: I’m from an organisation that tries to enforce the law in the public sector on anti-Semitism. I had the pleasure of dealing with HEFCE a few months ago and they were completely useless in my opinion. I was complaining about a university which allowed the performance of an anti-Semitic play sympathetic to terrorists on its premises. I made a freedom of information request to York University. It was quite plain that they had done absolutely nothing and not even considered the Prevent duty in relation to this event. I wasn’t arguing that this event should be banned, I was simply looking for evidence that the university had considered engaging with the Prevent duty. It clearly hadn’t. Now, when I referred this to HEFCE they went into incredible verbal contortions to deny that York University had failed to implement the duty. If they cannot be trusted to even identify a university’s failure to comply with this, what use are they? You’re an MP, if I were you I would wind them up and provide another regulator to carry out the job.
Natalie Jones: I’m from the University of Leeds and I’m a doctoral researcher looking at the impacts of Prevent in further education. When you say that you report had relatively positive findings and you spoke to vice chancellors, within your report did you consider the opinions of teaching academic staff who have quite an unclear role within the Prevent duty? And, if so, did their opinions reflect those positive findings that you commented on?
Richard from King’s College London: Do you think there is a need for a wider piece of regulation for universities which covers hate speech, which covers anti-Semitism, which covers all of those highly-charged political events but falls short of being considered as something which would come under the Prevent strategy?
Russell from Jurisdiction Council: My question for the panel was when it comes to private speakers the priority is to make sure that the risk is mitigated. I think that most people would agree that’s the right approach. I guess my question is, is there a point where the speaker is so high risk that the risk just cannot be mitigated or where that event cannot go ahead. Further, a lot of these high risk speakers usually go to several institutions at once. So, is there a lot of communication between those bodies? When I dealt with institutions in the past, I felt like I was starting from scratch with each one.
Lady in audience: I think a lot of the problems arise from the fact there is no distinction between fact and opinion in interpretation. For example, there are different kinds of boycotts. There needs to be a distinction between what they call apartheid in South Africa and what they call apartheid in Israel. Things that are clear in fact are not out there. With this big idea of what exists, that’s where a lot of bad feeling and bad events happen. Now, these things should be stated somewhere. What is fact? Then it would be much clearer.
Jonathan: It’s not just Israel Apartheid Week. Last week there was an official centenary lecture at SOAS. Baroness Amos was presiding. It included Raja Shehadeh, a well-known Palestinian poet. He demonised Semitism from end-to-end. He said that Israel doesn’t allow children with cancer out from Gaza unless they’re accompanied by an adult over 55. This is absolute nonsense. Where was the mitigation? I didn’t see it. Where was the Prevent duty?
Jim: Final remarks panel?
Jessica: I’ll reply to the comment that HEFCE is useless or spineless. I would just like to emphasise that it is enshrined in legislation that universities are autonomous institutions so they take their own decisions about what type of events they undertake. If there is a serious incident they do have a duty to report that to us and we will investigate it. So, I cannot comment on the particular event that you are talking about. But, we have to take our assurances from the universities that have sophisticated governance in place that oversee the policies and procedures that they’ve established. We do have to take some form of assurance from what’s in place but if something does occur then we will investigate it. This includes the public interest disclosure.
My final point is just picking up on the lady in front’s question around impact on teaching and academic staff. I think the response to Prevent has been varied across the sector, from academic staff and particularly around academic freedom and freedom of speech. I do think that universities have taken great strides in trying to bring academic staff on board and trying to get them engaged in developing these policies and procedures so that they understand where the universities are coming from and that their views are heard. I know that universities are very conscious to balance their policies around academic freedom and freedom of speech in the way that they respond to their Prevent duty. You could say it was mixed but I would say that it is becoming reasonably positive.
Sam: What I might just pick up upon is the talk about the need for wider regulation and around the duty only being applied with only strictly speaking a small number of events. The processes that are in place in many, many cases in universities, were in place prior to the Prevent duty coming into force. What I think we have found is that almost all universities would probably acknowledge that as a result of the duty, there policies and procedures have been given a fine tuning and are now much more effective. They are more effective, probably because they are subject to greater scrutiny but that just isn’t about events that will fall strictly into the Prevent statutory duty and the definition that has to apply to that and I think that is a good thing that events which have got a whole range of risks around them, reputational risks, risks to personal safety are being looked at and are being looked at very rigoursly. The processes and procedures that have been brought up to speed as a result of the duty are being applied in a number of areas and I don’t think that that is a bad thing. I think it can only be a good thing and universities and student unions are learning from that and learning about how to put on those events, the ones we have talked about here, the events which have not gone well and are learning from that.
Now I have personally been involved with speaker events that have not run well and have spoken to two of the universities in the months that have followed about that very same speaker and the events have then been held very, very well. What we have been able to do is learn the lessons from the one which didn’t go so well and the ensure that those events weren’t then cancelled and there weren’t lost opportunities but those events were actually put on, put on and worked very effectively and that dynamic conversations were allowed.
Rupert: I think one of the most important things that we have tried to think about over the last couple of years is how people view the Prevent duty across universities so we have done work breaking down the criticism of Prevent from students and unions and are now looking at it from how universities respond from bodies of large institutions that have to put policies in place. In addition to that, I attended a consultation event last year with students and unions who raised their concerns around freedom of expression, in particular that is something that we have included in the report.
Our position on Prevent is that there has been a significant amount of misinformation spread about it within the sector by student campaigns and some lecturers as well and that is where more information needs to come in there. More consultation is needed around how we can change perceptions that Prevent is a racist strategy or it is about lecturers spying on students when those things simply aren’t the case.
On some of the other issues, on mitigating risk or is there a point were risk simply cannot be mitigated, that is one thing that we actually found really interesting when we were looking at the speaker policies risk assessment areas. When we were looking at them in a lot of places, we were not sure what was considered to be an event too far beyond the most obvious ones for example if it contains a speaker from a prescribed organisation or someone who has got a conviction for violence or something along those lines. That is something perhaps, policies could go into a bit more detail on and particularly go into more detail about how they will mitigate those particularly high risk events.
A last comment about getting the facts out there, I think I have said a number of times throughout this presentation about how policies could have more information about particular issues and this is something that I think is crucial in this area. Students and staff should be able to make the most informed decisions around the speaker policies they rely on to make decisions about these events need to give them that information, so I think I would agree with that last point.
Jim: Ladies and gentleman I hope you have found that useful and reassuring, I certainly did. Nothing is ever perfect but I think you got the message that there are a lot of people working very hard to make the situation as good as it can be. Thank you for coming and participating, can I ask you to show your appreciation to these three speakers for the work they put in, making these events work.