‘A hostile environment of surveillance and targeted scrutiny’:
University faces criticism over counter-terror scheme.
by Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco
Courtesy of Aedan Brennan
Last month, the University confirmed via a Freedom of Information (FoI) request that they had made no referrals to the UK’s PREVENT anti-terrorist scheme since 2015.
They also confirmed that there had been no investigations opened by the University due to suspicion of possible extremist cases during the same time period.
The University’s participation in this programme is a result of the Counter-Terrorism & Security Act, passed in 2015, which mandates bodies such as universities to recognise warning signs and take action ‘to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.’
The scheme is run in several ways, including the monitoring of student activity on the University’s IT facilities and the referral of potential extremist targets to administration by Student Support.
Data in the Freedom of Information request revealed that 200 members of staff have received WRAP (Workshop to Raise Awareness of PREVENT) training, 5.5% of the 3,600 administrative staff who are employed at the University despite WRAP being offered as a free online course available to all employees of higher learning institutions.
When asked for comment, a university spokesperson blamed COVID-19 protocols for the lack of trained staff, saying,
‘In-person training has been limited by the Covid-19 pandemic but an e-learning programme is now being rolled out and will be targeted to ensure coverage of all parts of the University.’
The spokesperson further remarked that ‘training [had] been prioritised for frontline staff’ and was in line with ‘national guidelines.’
The PREVENT scheme has been criticised for unfairly targeting students from Muslim-majority countries and limiting academic freedoms.
Academic-oriented organisations opposed to the programme include the National Union of Students, as well as many other civil rights and advocacy groups.
PREVENT also has its detractors at Aberdeen. Camilo Torres-Barragán, AUSA’s Vice President for Communities, criticised the scheme several statements, telling The Gaudie that:
‘… strategies like PREVENT are part of a wider Hostile Environment policy that negatively affects international students, specifically those that are racialised and come from the Global South.’
Torres-Barragán reflected on his personal experiences as a student from a country on a ‘dangerous’ list, commenting: ‘I [especially] feel strongly about this as my nationality is specifically affected by some of the surveillance measures in place right now…’
He further criticised the programme as out of place in a university setting, writing, ‘[the scheme] outsources surveillance strategies from the central government to institutions that are meant to be dedicated to the well-being of the population, like our university…’
Torres-Barragán concluded by announcing the creation of Undoing Borders, an AUSA campaign meant to combat the challenges faced by many racialised international students. He told the Gaudie: ‘… We encourage any student that has faced any of the negative consequences of the Hostile Environment policy, and those that are sympathetic to our cause, to get in touch and join us to change this situation.’
Additional reporting by Anttoni James Numminen who submitted the FoI request.