Free speech and preventing radicalisation in higher education
in The free speech wars
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Since 2015, universities have been under a legal duty to have due regard to prevent people being drawn into terrorism – the Prevent duty. Higher education institutions have responded to the duty by implementing a range of policies and procedures from measures to improve information technology security, to the monitoring of external speakers. The Prevent duty has been implemented at a time when universities have been subjected to robust critique from both the left and right of the political spectrum, with (often unsubstantiated) allegations of ‘no-platforming’ those with whom certain student groups disagree, or providing ‘safe spaces’ where undergraduates can seek refuge from discussing controversial or distressing topics. The Prevent duty has cemented the place of universities as key sites of contestation in the contemporary culture wars. Advocates of the duty claim that it is a necessary and appropriate response to the challenge of radicalisation, while critics claim that it will have a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech in institutions which are constituted to uphold it. This chapter argues that there is little evidence that the duty has led to the feared constraints on freedom of speech, but that it should nevertheless be abolished. This is because the theory underpinning the policy, vulnerability to radicalisation, lacks a solid evidential foundation, risks stigmatising groups that are already under-represented in higher education, and impacts the overall credibility of the UK’s security strategy.

The free speech wars

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