College union rejects govt spying plans

University and college lecturers have voted unanimously to boycott a government request to spy on students.

The Department of Education (DfES) issued advice last November requesting lecturers look out for students they suspected of Islamic radicalism and report on them.

But delegates at the University and College Union (UCU) conference in Bournemouth flatly rejected co-operation with the government this morning.

Members voted unanimously in favour of a motion which called for members to “resist attempts by government to engage colleges and universities in activities which amount to increased surveillance of Muslim or other minority students and to the use of members of staff for such witch-hunts”.

The UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “UCU delegates in Bournemouth have made it clear this morning that they will oppose government attempts to restrict academic freedom or free speech on campus.

“Lecturers want to teach students, if they wanted to police them they would have joined the force.

“Lecturers have a pivotal role in building trust. These proposals, if implemented, would make that all but impossible. Universities must remain safe spaces for lecturers and students to discuss and debate all sorts of ideas, including those that some people may consider challenging, offensive and even extreme.

“The last thing we need is people too frightened to discuss an issue because they fear some quasi-secret service will turn them in,” she argued.

The government request has been opposed from its inception last November, earning an instant rebuke from educational and Islamic groups.

A statement from the National Union of Students, University College Union, Unison, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies and the Equality Challenge Unit was released at the time saying: “Any implementation should recognise that demonising Muslims is unacceptable and dangerous – whether in educational institutions or in communities.

“Students and staff should be assured by their institutions that there is no intention of adding to a climate of Islamophobia.”

But the DfES replied that the request was appropriate given the nature of the terrorist threat against the UK.

Minister for higher education Bill Rammell said: “Violent extremism in the name of Islam is a real, credible and sustained threat to the UK. And there is evidence of serious, but not widespread Islamist extremist activity in higher education institutions.

“We want higher education institutions to work with the vast majority of Muslims on campus to isolate and challenge the very small minority who promote violent extremism in the name of Islam.”