The Counter Terrorism and Security Act (CTSA) 2015 introduced a new statutory duty for higher education institutions to have 'due regard to the need to prevent individuals from being drawn into terrorism'. This means there is now a duty to engage with the Government's Prevent agenda.
Prevent is one of the four Ps that make up the governments post 9/11 counter-terrorism strategy, known as CONTEST.
It is clear that this has created challenges in balancing new statutory responsibilities with the legal and moral obligation to promote and facilitate academic freedom and freedom of speech.
While the law is clear that there is a high level of responsibility, there is a significant practical role often given to Chief Security Officers or their equivalents. When outsourcing, higher education institutions often choose a security supplier that can help discharge and support those duties.
It is therefore very appropriate that London Universities Procurement Consortium (LUPC) addressed this in its framework tender for security service providers last year, including a question on recent legislative changes regarding counter-terrorism.
What can a quality security provider do to help? The provider needs to be committed to equality and diversity, and be able to prove this in both the behaviours and range of staff.
A real commitment to safety and welfare are other positive indicators, since preserving and enhancing good relations is a cornerstone of anti-radicalisation.
Some security providers will be able to provide counter-terrorism expertise. Knowing where the Prevent element fits into the broader CONTEST (UK counter-terrorism strategy) and its other elements of 'Protect, Prepare, and Pursue' offers enhanced experience dovetailing with what Prevent seeks to achieve.
The provider should also be committed to training frontline staff comprehensively, and this includes staff deployed to support student unions. Internal training that cautions against impulsive over-reaction, instead setting out clear swift reporting mechanisms works well.
Radicalisation is a complex issue with very few clear indicators. For example, how many people can easily differentiate fundamentalism from extremism? Early referral to expertise is part of best practice.
Security guarding is often 24/7 work, and security personnel may see and hear things that others do not. They have a particular insight on events in room bookings.
As a frontline service, the early indications of a student experiencing challenging issues, including mental health, may first be observed by security. Internal mechanisms and external agreements should be in place to allow effective information-sharing and prevent over- or under-reaction.
It is best practice for each institution to have a forum set up that deals with Prevent issues. The security provider should be part of this and contribute proactively.
Similarly, the police as part of Prevent have a co-ordinator who will work with each institution under the umbrella of a broader co-ordinating body. If suitably experienced, it may be helpful for the security provider's representative to be linked into the structure in order to fully support the institution.