Written by Student Rights on 21 March 2017 at 8am

Mitigating the Risks? An Assessment of University Speaker Policies

A new Student Rights' report, Mitigating the Risks? An Assessment of University Speaker Policies, analyses the speaker policies of 76 English universities to assess the extent to which the higher education sector has responded to the legal duty to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism imposed by the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015.

Asking 20 questions of each policy based on their frameworks, application processes, and risk assessment and mitigation, and awarding a maximum of one point per question, the report finds that that over half of institutions scored ten points or more (at least 50%), while nearly a fifth scored at least 15 points (75%).

The most common score fell between 70% and under 80%, with 19 policies achieving this score.

In addition, institutions that have historically faced the greatest challenge from events featuring extreme or intolerant speakers had some of the highest-scoring policies, suggesting they have sought to ensure any risks posed will be effectively mitigated while events continue to go ahead.

Taken together, these points undermine suggestions counter-radicalisation policies have failed on-campus – and show the sector has responded well to new legal responsibilities.

Despite these successes however, over a third of policies examined did not mention the Counter Terrorism and Security Act or Prevent Duty.

Four institutions were also assessed to have failed to outline both the background checks made on speakers and the application processes used to prevent the concealment of speakers’ views, potentially leaving their booking procedures open to abuse.

Just a fifth of policies, meanwhile, detailed balancing a platform as a possible way to mitigate risk. 

Director of Student Rights, Rupert Sutton, said:

“These findings highlight that despite a well-organised campaign to undermine Prevent on university campuses, the sector has responded well to the legal duty imposed in 2015.

However, a number of challenges remain, particularly when it comes to ensuring procedures cannot be circumvented and that real debate occurs on campus.

Putting procedures in place which mean speakers assessed to be ‘high risk’ face balanced platforms rather than cancellation should be a key goal, and one which we hope to see the sector working towards in the future.”

Launched today at an event hosted by Jim Fitzpatrick MP and featuring Jessica Trahar, Head of Strategic Development at The Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE), and Sam Slack, an HE/FE Prevent Coordinator, the report paints a positive picture of engagement with the Prevent Duty which will hopefully continue in the future.