Prevent monitoring is an important business – monitoring instances of extremism with a risk to student and public safety is not a duty to be taken likely.
In recent times the OfS data collection and publication that underpins our national approach has unwittingly entered the discourse relating to freedom of speech. Providing, as it does, a handy source to plot the number of on campus events with external speakers against those (expressed as fractions of a percent) that did not go ahead the utility for those arguing against the earlier position that students were cancelling more stuff than Arriva Trains was clear.
The free speech debate has, of course, moved on – from student society invitation policy to a more general chilling/monoculture effect (albeit not one backed up by the most recent available evidence). And the OfS data collection has moved on too.
Give me a reason
In previous years, providers have had to supply a reason for events and external speakers rejected through the Prevent process. Table four (d) now applies to all rejected events through the external speakers process – with categorisations including:
- Health and safety
- Procedural matters
- Reasons related to Prevent risk
- Other matters.
For each rejection, you are also expected to add free text information – there’s a maximum of 300 words for that.
Those reasons? Health and safety relates to “a risk of accident or injury”, one of the examples given involves venue capacity. Procedural matters is your breach of general procedure – the example here is a timescale for requests being ignored so there is insufficient time to make a decision.
Reasons related to Prevent risk relates to radicalisation as defined in Prevent – so if a speaker has previously promoted a proscribed terrorist organisation is one example. Finally other matters should be the catch all for anything else, including perhaps because your university hates Britain and hates freedom. However, the example given is a venue being closed because of social distancing regulations – something that feels somewhat health and safety and rather procedural to me.
Each event or speaker that didn’t happen has to go in one of these four boxes – indeed, even if the event goes ahead without a speaker it would turn up here.
So what’s all this for then? We never actually get these breakdowns of reasons – we’ve asked a number of times and there’s no dice.
Expanding the coverage of the data return will, however, expand the total number of events that are reported as “cancelled”. Making those numbers bandied around parliament look a little less embarrassing. That can’t be the only reason, surely?
It would be a shame that the serious and difficult work universities do in walking the delicate line between a natural presumption towards freedom of speech and complying with anti-terrorist legislation is made harder by politics.