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Colleges told to do more to tackle extremism

Colleges have failed to take sufficient action to address the risk of violent extremism spreading on campus, and they should be a priority for further anti-terror work, the Home Office has said.

The Government's updated Prevent strategy - which aims to stop the spread of ideologies that support terrorism, ranging from Islamic extremism to far-right organisations - criticised the progress made in colleges, arguing that less had been done than in universities.

The report argued that the risks may be similar in either type of institution. Of those convicted of Al Qaeda-related terrorist offences in the UK, 15 per cent had vocational or FE qualifications, while 30 per cent had attended university.

About 10 per cent were students at the time of being charged with offences, although the report offered no details of whether their education institution contributed to their radicalisation.

"We note that much less has been done with further education colleges, although young people at college may be as vulnerable to radicalisation as those attending university, and for the same reasons," the strategy said. "This is a gap in activity which we will also address as a priority."

The strategy acknowledges the work of the Champion Principals Group, formed in 2008 to draw up and promote advice for colleges in preventing extremism. But the group was disbanded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) last year.

Paul Head, chair of the group and principal of the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London, said: "I'm disappointed that the review of the Prevent strategy has characterised the group's work as having not made much progress. The Champion Principals Group did the work it was asked to do."

But he said he believed the new Prevent strategy was an improvement that offered a more targeted approach to extremism.

Research by the Institute of Community Cohesion quoted in the report found that 40 per cent of colleges engaged with police on extremism, compared with 45 per cent of universities. But some colleges and universities may be in areas with little exposure to extremist ideology.

Police should be ready to brief colleges when propagandists are aiming to speak there, the report said. And it said the Federation of Student Islamic Societies did not always challenge extremism and needed to give clearer leadership to its affiliates.

But it added that colleges and universities were places for the exchange of opinion and ideas, and the need to preserve national security should be balanced with a protection of civil liberties.

FE minister John Hayes said the lack of progress in colleges did not reflect a lack of will to deal with the problem. "There's an absolute commitment in colleges. They take very seriously their duty of care," he said.

A large, part-time population, who live in their communities rather than on campus, made it harder to identify and challenge extremism, Mr Hayes said, and efforts had so far focused on universities where there was more information about the problem.

While BIS had identified 40 universities as at particular risk of recruitment by violent groups, similar work had not yet been carried out in colleges.

Mr Hayes said he had not ruled out convening another principals' group to build on the work of the disbanded Champion Principals Group.

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