Prevent duty | University of Oxford

Prevent duty

This website provides information about the Prevent duty, which was introduced for UK universities in September 2015.

Prevent duty - background information

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 creates a statutory duty for specified public authorities to ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. Prevent is one of four strands of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, and aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.

Universities became subject to the new Prevent duty on 18 September 2015, with HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) given responsibility for assessing how they meet the requirements under the new duty.

Oxford’s approach

The University has established a steering group to consider in detail how the University should respond, and give effect to, the statutory duty. Membership of the group, which includes representatives from the academic divisions, UAS and the Conference of Colleges, can be found on the Prevent steering group page. The Conference of Colleges has also established a working group, chaired by the Warden of Wadham. The two groups were established in response to HEFCE’s view that legally it needed under Prevent to separately regulate and monitor the University and each of the Oxford colleges. Both groups have worked, and are continuing to work, closely together.

The colleges and the University submitted to HEFCE in January 2016, as required, a preliminary self-assessment on its state of preparedness. The colleges and the University submitted further detailed information to HEFCE by 1 August 2016.

The University Steering Group is very much aware that the imposition of the Prevent Duty on universities has generated some concern across the academic community in Oxford. The University’s approach has been outlined in a communication by the Vice-Chancellor and the Chair of the Conference of Colleges. As that letter makes clear non-compliance with the Prevent duty would be illegal and is therefore not an option but at the same time it is necessary to provide, and the letter seeks to provide, re-assurance on the scope of these policies and procedures and the limited extent to which they are likely to have an impact on our University.

The obligation created by the Prevent duty is to have ‘due regard’ to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. ‘Due regard’ does not require that the Prevent duty be implemented in such a way that it overrides those existing rights without which the University could not function as a place of higher learning. These existing rights include the rights to free expression, academic freedom, autonomy, confidentiality, privacy and equal treatment under the law and it is vital that the University continues to assert the importance of these rights.

In seeking to have ‘due regard’ to the Prevent duty the University Steering Group has sought to act pragmatically in proportion to the risk of people being drawn into terrorism (which at Oxford is deemed to be low) and to seek to minimise as far as possible the burdens for divisions, departments, faculties and individuals in terms of compliance and reporting requirements. It has also sought to focus on student and staff welfare and to consider the duty in the context of existing welfare processes. The Group has worked its way through each of the areas which the University is required to consider, under the Prevent Duty Guidance: for higher education institutions in England and Wales (the Guidance). Where appropriate, questions have been referred to committees, other groups or senior officers for advice.

The Steering Group has formally advised Council that a proportionate and risk-aware approach will mean very few changes need to be made to current policies and practices to have, as the law requires, ‘due regard’ to the Prevent duty. Any recommendations for changes to policies and procedures will come to the relevant University committee(s) for consideration.

The statutory Guidance requires universities to demonstrate that they are ‘willing to undertake Prevent awareness training’; the Guidance is not prescriptive about the format or content of the training and a broad interpretation, to include general awareness-raising, briefings incorporated with other training etc. will be acceptable. A number of such sessions have already taken place and the Steering Group is currently considering, in consultation with the Conference of Colleges, how to use existing channels to provide further sessions during Michaelmas term and beyond. Both groups recognise the importance of raising awareness of Prevent in the context of other legal obligations, such as the Human Rights Act 1998, the Equality Act 2010, and the Education (No 2) Act 1986.

The Steering Group is committed to ensuring that the Prevent duty in no way constrains or influences research, education, teaching or scholarship at Oxford or affects Oxford’s academic values and practices.

Questions or concerns about Prevent

If you have questions about the work of the University Steering Group or the impact of Prevent, please email in the first instance.

If you have concerns that a student or member of staff is being drawn into terrorism, please contact the appropriate University officer. Details can be found on the Key contacts page.

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