The first PREVENT Taskforce was held on Wednesday May 4th at the Students’ Union Building. The CUSU President opened the meeting with a round of introductions. The majority of students were J/MCR representatives, with a mix of societies and interested students also in attendance.
The CUSU President introduced the room to Dr Kirsty Allen, the University’s administrative lead on PREVENT and Dr Matthew Russell.
Dr Allen gave an introduction to the University’s stance on PREVENT and her personal views.
She emphasised that the University has no standing PREVENT policy and will be incorporating that which it is legally obliged to do into current practices, viewing the legislation alongside other legislation governing Higher Education Institutions [HEIs]. She highlighted that the University’s primary concern is preventing terrorism, and that freedom of speech and preventing people being drawn into was enshrined into the PREVENT legislation.
She explained that the University was following the proportionate and risk-based and context-sensitive approach of HEFCE, which was limiting the exposure of universities to BIS and the Home Office, who need to have the impression that universities are taking PREVENT seriously.
She then emphasised that the University has not yet taken action on PREVENT and will not be changing its approach to speakers and events but is looking at its processes by which speakers and events are approved.
It has set up a PREVENT committee which will be meeting on May 11, and of which the CUSU and GU presidents are full members. Subject to its decision, the University will not be doing IT filtering and it will also have a freedom of speech policy which will complement existing policy on events.
The University will be reviewing safeguarding and welfare policies for staff and students, as it needs to make sure staff feel they can work in an environment where they feel they can express and challenge views, and be challenged.
There will be training of frontline staff so that they know what to look for, but not acting on stereotypes will be a part of this. The training will be using materials from the Leadership Foundation for HE which are publicly available.
Dr Allen ended her introduction by clarifying that, in her view, the way that Cambridge will implement this legislation with not stop anyone doing anything that they are currently legitimately doing.
Dr Matthew Russell then entered into the collegiate point of view on this legislation and its implementation. He added that there were some aspects of the Duty which require colleges and university to work closely together, especially in the case that an individual needs to be referred to an external body, but that each college has an individual duty to PREVENT.
He has worked with HEFCE to develop the implementation, and all of the information which has been provided to them accessible by any member of the university. He highlighted that in the legal statutory guidance academic freedom is enshrined, as is the requirement for colleges and HEIs to consult their students. This has been differently interpreted throughout the colleges, where some have PREVENT committees with student representation and some use their college governing bodies which have student representation.
The CUSU President also confirmed that Senior Tutors’ Committee had emphasised that colleges were engaged in student consultation.
The meeting was then open to questions to Drs Allen and Russell.
Question: Who are the frontline or ‘appropriate’ staff who will be trained?
Dr Allen answered that, from the university’s point of view, it would be those who have direct student-facing responsibilities including welfare staff.
Dr Russell clarified that this was also up to individual colleges, however on the whole so far the advice being given is to train senior tutors, heads of housekeeping and head porters.
Should anyone want to view the training that the staff will be getting, module 1 of training will be available to everyone with a ‘.ac.uk’ email. It is a comprehensive guide to PREVENT.
Dr Allen added that this training was produced especially for the HE sector by HEFCE and would include how to view the legislation as part of the clutch of legislation which already governs HE, as PREVENT does not overrule any of the rest of it and must be view contextually.
Question: The College Risk Assessment notes one hazard as “not being sufficiently aware of diversity demographics.” Would not collecting demographic information of students be considered a problem?
Dr Russell explained that the intercollegiate Risk Assessment was put together by his office with advice from BIS and consultation of senior tutors. That hazard was identified around the concept that if colleges do not know who is their student body then they cannot be aware of the risks that there might be, as some colleges collect demographic data and others do not.
The questioner then asked if they considered there to a be a risk of racial profiling to which Dr Russell responded that there was and that because of this some colleges had said that they would not collect demographic data, even though it could be useful in other areas.
Question: Would you recommend J/MCR Officers going through the training?
Dr Allen recommended that, as it is modular, anyone with concerns or queries over the content should have a look at the first module. She further recommended an introduction from the National College of Policing, although this did not set the duties in the context of Higher Education.
Question: What does the CUSU and GU Presidents being full members of the PREVENT committee mean?
Dr Allen clarified that it gave them the same rights as all other members. The questioner then asked about whether they would be able to stay for reserved business, and Dr Allen responded that she could not predict that the committee would have reserved business, as it would not be dealing with individual cases. She also highlighted that the membership of the committee was mainly ex officio, including representatives from CUP and Cambridge Assessment.
The CUSU President highlighted the importance of students engaging in the discussions at the committee through their representatives and the ongoing importance of the pre-meeting student meetings.
Question: Will colleges have an obligation to speak to the University if they have worries about a student?
Dr Russell said that this would be dependent on the PREVENT Committee’s decision at its initial meeting, and that the Data Protection Act would be a key constraint of this as the transmission of information about allegations of offences needs individual consent from the individual concerned, as does referring someone on to an individual body.
Question: All students are members of both their college and the university – do you double report or have one trump the other?
Dr Russell detailed the proposals he would be taking to the PREVENT committee. The initial proposal is that if concerns are raised with a Senior Tutor then they will tell the University. Any decision to report a student under PREVENT will be joint between the college and a small core of people [not an individual] within the University and the reporting will be done by the university who will then feed back to the College.
Dr Allen once again emphasised that their major concern was stopping a criminal act, and that the university will never assume something based on someone’s background, but would take its duty to report criminal acts seriously.
Question: Practically, if a student wants to book a room in a College or Faculty and they will not disclose who is speaking so their booking is turned down, what’s their recourse?
Dr Allen clarified that there is already an existing requirement to approve events when rooms are being booked. She added that it was not unreasonable that those who take bookings have an idea of what that room will be used for, not because of PREVENT but for event management and facilities reason. Those booking rooms will only be required to declare external speakers and their topics, and if a particularly strong case for one side of a debate is being put they will be asked to present a counter view.
She clarified that nobody at a faculty or departmental level will be able to refuse a room booking for reasons of PREVENT and would have to refer it upwards. When asked about a right of appeal, she added that students could get guidance from CUSU and emphasised that the University could not legislate for people assuming that their rooms were cancelled due to PREVENT, just set out policy and good practice.
Dr Russell added that in colleges PREVENT prompted conference managers and domestic bursars to refresh their guidance on room bookings, placing the risk to freedom of speech alongside lots of other risks e.g. fire and reputational risks. Colleges do have procedures, but are sometimes lacking in having them written down. This is actually forcing them to write them down and become more transparent and write down policies which they must rigorously follow.
Question: how will the University interpret non-violent extremism?
Dr Allen clarified that the University was only concerned with events which meant to incite terrorism and will interpret the phrasing proportionately within the Cambridge context, despite there not necessarily being a black and white definition of it.
Question: With respect to room booking, the external speakers guidelines said that each room has to have an ‘owner’ – how does that work with J/MCRs being their own student space?
Dr Allen said that students could impact this by being on their college governing boards, and that this was analogous to CUSU/GU space: someone has overall responsibility for the building but they do not tell representatives what to do.
Dr Russell added that it would be similar to the way that college committees have a Fellow as a Treasurer, but they are not involved in their political life of the committee, but that this role could change to incorporate ‘owning’ the room. The wording was chosen to highlight that someone needs to be responsible for the room.
CUSU President: PREVENT legislation also states that there should be appropriate policies to manage prayer facilities; how will this be managed?
Dr Russell explained that the majority of colleges have a chapel, and their duty under PREVENT is to have a policy on the management of faith facilities. This has been differently interpreted across the Colleges, and policies have varied from 2 paragraphs to 3 pages; it could be seen as a tick box exercise so that HEFCE can say that a document exists.
The CUSU President aired concerns with the variation in response from colleges, and Dr Russell responded that the uses and management of chapels varied from college to college, especially with the more prominent chapels such as King’s. A representative from Peterhouse offered to circulate their policy.
Question: Will the statement on Freedom of Speech be from the PREVENT Committee or elsewhere?
Dr Allen said that it would go through to the General Board and that she hoped it would come from University Council. The University already states a commitment to freedom of speech in its mission statement, but this is planned to be a much fuller policy.
Question: Is the process of referral and escalation already produced?
Dr Allen confirmed that it is drafted and will be sent to the PREVENT committee for approval.
Question: Within each college and part of the university, who will be considered a frontline member of staff will differ. It has been discussed in the BME Working Group that training on PREVENT should be mirrored by Unconscious Bias and anti-Islamophobia training: how do we ensure marginalised groups are not targeted?
Question: Do individuals have a duty have to report a student and to what degree will colleges force their staff to comply?
Dr Allen said that there was a clear implication of ‘if you see something, say something’ in the duty and Dr Russell added that particularly for UGs, the tutorial system at Cambridge is probably best for managing students’ welfare, safeguarding and wellbeing issues and those reporting mechanisms already exist, which is why Senior Tutors have been chosen as the PREVENT contacts between the colleges and University. He added that he could not imagine that a college governing body will impose on its fellows. The participant then raised that some faculties were not going to take part and Dr Allen countered that if a tutor was concerned about a student’s welfare then they would find a way to report and that it was their duty as private citizens to find a way to report. She continued that any individual was able to use the reporting system and go directly to PREVENT, but it was preferable that the University channels and proper process was used.
Question: Will there be training for students who are also staff, such as students who supervise?
Dr Allen said that this was in development.
The CUSU President thanked everyone for their attendance and reminded everyone that the discussion was ongoing and their points would be taken to the PREVENT Committee. Dr Allen reminded the meeting that they could contact her with concerns or questions about PREVENT either through their representatives or directly. The meeting was closed.
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