19 September | 09:46:52
 
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New guidance to universities on tackling extremism
Student representatives claim new advice against Islamic extremism is "contradictory"
Friday, 15 February, 2008 | 00:31

New guidelines issued to universities have advised higher education authorities to consider sharing information on violent Islamist speakers and ban them from addressing students.

The advice came in an updated government document aimed at helping universities to tackle Islamic extremism on campus.

The report by the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills was issued after the Prime Minister called for further debate concerning the ways in which universities could foster academic freedom whilst tackling the issue of violent extremism.

Other advice included urging universities to consider rejecting demands for separate prayer and washing facilities in order to prevent campuses segregating along religious lines.

The report also highlighted a line that the government saw between students researching and debating violent extremism and students who promoted it.

The guidance addresses a belief in government that “universities and colleges can provide a recruiting ground for extremists of all forms, and particularly those who target young people.”

The report emphasises a continued commitment to allowing “free and open debate to take place.”

However, Gemma Tumelty, president of the National Union of Students, called the guidance on freedom of speech “unhelpful and contradictory.”

Ms Tumelty said of the report: “It argues that holding extreme views is ‘acceptable provided these views do not pass the line of illegality’ and that universities should encourage that they be debated, before admitting that extreme groups are likely ‘to be careful to keep their message within acceptable limits’ in campus settings.”

The report follows similar guidelines issued by the Department for Education and Skills last year which stated that “ethnically segregated communities are increasingly common on campus” and raised concerns that new students who are away from home for the first time may be “vulnerable to ‘grooming’."

While some groups, including the British Muslim Forum, have largely welcomed the report, the main lecturers’ union has reiterated its fear that universities could come to expect staff to spy on students.

The guidelines have also come under fire from Ruqayyah Collector, the NUS’ Black Students Officer, who stated that the disproportionate focus on Islamic groups compared to other extremist factions “risks encouraging universities to treat Muslims with suspicion.”

The Scottish government has no official stance on the issue despite the fact that education is a devolved area.

A government spokesperson told The Journal: “The Scottish Government has not issued guidance to universities and colleges on the issue of Islamic extremism in universities and there are currently no plans to do so.”

The government did confirm that “Universities Scotland would have been made aware of the new guidance issued by the UK Government.”
In response to the government guidelines an Edinburgh University spokesperson told The Journal: “The new guidelines raise issues of which the University is fully aware, and to which we give careful thought. We encourage dialogue and discussion on these issues with representatives of Edinburgh's students' unions and with other interested parties.”

The University of Edinburgh reiterated its commitment to freedom of speech and association, in what it called “a complex and sensitive matter.”

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