Prevent Watch challenges Guardian article claims of ‘rise in extremism’ in higher education

extremism in higher education uk

Prevent Watch challenged an article in the Guardian published this week based on a report by pro-Prevent group Hope not Hate, which claimed that the number of students “flagged for extremism” via Prevent had “risen by a half”.

“The Guardian article on a ‘worrying rise’ involves a worrying failure to understand Prevent,” said Prevent Watch.

“The sentence ‘210 Prevent cases were escalated in the higher education sector’ only describes cases involving the Prevent lead, when only 65 cases were actually referred to an external body.”

“Moreover, there is no information on how many of these cases were in fact adopted by Channel as ‘extremism’ cases.”

Our concerns included:

  • the claims published as headline news in the Guardian are not based on data of actual Prevent referrals.
  • when considering the data, there were only 210 cases in which a Prevent lead was involved.
  • this is not even two cases per Higher Education Institution in the UK.
  • of these, only 65 cases were considered formally by an external body (a referral was made).
  • there is no mention of how many of these 65 referrals were adopted by Channel as cases of “extremism” for “de-radicalisation”, if any at all.

Considering there are approximately 2.8 million students in the UK in higher education, according to the latest Universities UK statistics, 65 Prevent referrals simply does not justify the expense and harm of having Prevent in education.

It is essential that media that supports wider claims that there is a “need for Prevent” – particularly in tertiary education where it has a self-silencing effect – should be challenged.

Here is our full letter to the Guardian:

Dear Editor
The response of ‘Hope Not Hate’ to the latest release of monitoring data on Prevent (‘Number of students flagged for extremist views rises by half’ 4 June) from the Office for Students is more worrying than the data. No-one reported under Prevent has done anything unlawful. The report refers to the increasing number of cases being ‘escalated through Prevent’, but it shows the opposite. Most of the students initially flagged as ‘being of concern’ do not proceed very far. They are dropped from Prevent after initial scrutiny. As the report shows only 65 cases (compared to 55 in the previous year) are referred to an external Prevent Panel. The OfS does not provide any information on the outcomes from such referrals. In the majority of cases, no further action will be recommended by the panel. If HE referrals are similar to other sectors, only around a fifth of such cases will involve a Channel intervention (possibly 1 or 2 more than in the previous year). According to Universities UK, there are around 2.2 million students in higher education.


The People’s Review of Prevent

Photo by Shubham Sharan on Unsplash

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