OUSU Council passed a motion on Wednesday evening to “not co-operate with the [government’s] Prevent strategy”.
The motion, which comes following a contrasting vote in June by OUSU’s Board of Trustees to abide by the law in relation to Prevent, mandates “OUSU Offi cers to not co-operate with the Prevent strategy or serve on any bodies overseeing the implementation of Prevent, and to boycott it as far as legally possible.”
Council also resolved to work on combatting the anti-terrorism policy “and its implementation on campus”, as well as to mandate the provision of support and assistance to “any students who feel harassed or persecuted due to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.”
Prevent obliges bodies including universities to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.” Extremism is defi ned in the Act as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy [and] the rule of law.”
Aliya Yule, a third-year PPEist at Wadham and the proposer of the motion at this week’s OUSU Council, told Cherwell, “It is vital that we oppose Prevent for a number of reasons. Not only does it attack academic freedom and stifl e critical debate and thinking, this legislation is a thinly veiled attack on black and Muslim communities.
“Under Prevent, indicators of ‘extremism’ include ‘criticism of Western foreign policy’ and ‘opposition to British values’. It recommends monitoring students if they seem ‘withdrawn’ or want ‘political change’ – which could be any and all of us with an opinion, or if we’re stressed or dealing with mental health issues.
“This comes at a time when the government is pushing through an ‘anti-Islamic extremism’ agenda, and already under the guise of Prevent, Muslim students have been monitored, harassed and reported.”
Cherwell understands that OUSU is not currently co-operating with Prevent; the passage of this motion cements this position into OUSU’s long-term policy on the matter.
This motion also follows NUS Conference’s passage of Motion 517, which mandates the national student union, “to encourage Unions and institutions to not comply with or legitimize Prevent and to develop guidelines for Unions on eff ective non-cooperation with the Act and its proposals.”
The policy was due to come into force by 21st September of this year throughout UK universities.
The government’s new Extremism Analysis Unit has claimed that last year at least 70 events featuring hate speakers were held on UK campuses.
Universities Minister Jo Johnson said in a statement, “It is disappointing to see overt opposition to the Prevent programme [by the NUS]…The legal duty that will be placed on universities and colleges highlights the importance that the government places on this.”
Prime Minister David Cameron has emphasised, “All public institutions have a role to play in rooting out and challenging extremism. It is not about oppressing free speech or stifl ing academic freedom, it is about making sure that radical views and ideas are not given the oxygen they need to flourish.”