Efforts are being stepped up to deny militant groups the chance to recruit students, reports Simon Midgley
FUNDING chiefs have asked colleges to spell out how they would cope with terrorist attacks in the wake of the assault on America.
The call comes as experts in the study of terrorism told FE Focus that colleges and school sixth-forms were ripe for recruitment by proselytising militant Muslim groups such as Al-Muharjiroun (The Emigrants).
The group has been banned from university campuses following claims that it has been involved in recruiting students to fight the fundamentalist cause and set up an Islamic state in this country.
Colleges have until the end of this month to explain their risk management plans to the Learning and Skills Council. They should include strategies for coping with incidents such as terrorist attacks and explosions.
Several colleges are already taking steps to improve security. For example, Richmond upon Thames College - which lies along Heathrow Airport's flight path - has well-established emergency procedures which have just been reviewed in the light of the tragic events in the United States.
Earlier this summer, the council sent a strategic planning circular to all the colleges. This included detailed guidance on how to prepare disaster plans. "Latest events add a new imperative to effective sharing of ideas," a council spokesperson said.
The circular urges all colleges to give a "key manager" responsibility for implementing disaster plans. This should be part of a wider risk management strategy covering everything from serious financial loss and damaging inspection reports to planning for risks such as fire, flood and other acts of God.
The Association of Colleges is to re-examine guidelines it issues to colleges on race relations and security arrangements in the wake of the horrific events in New York.
Sustained day-to-day vigilance is also needed, particularly over recruitment at the college gates, academics monitoring defence issues insist.
The National Union of Students has banned Al-Muhajiroun from handing out leaflets on university campuses because of the group's extreme views about Jews, homosexuals and the state of Israel.
Now academics have warned that schools and colleges could also attract the unwelcome attention of such groups. Dr John Gearson, a lecturer in the Defence Studies Department at King's College, London, said that groups such as Al-Muhajiroun are seeking to recruit young Muslim men to receive spiritual and other training outside Britain.
There had been documented cases of such young men being found in Yemen, he said. "Further education colleges and universities are, to some extent, sources of potential recruits for them," Dr Gearson said.
Student bodies were attractive to recruiters of whatever political persuasion: "If you were trying to set up an international network, this is the sort of forum that you would like to use.'' Professor Paul Wilkinson, director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St Andrews University, said: "There is certainly an interest among these groups in finding supporters and potential activists where ever they can. I certainly would not exempt the further education sector.
"I would not exempt the sixth-form age groups in secondary schools either," he added . "They do try to get them really as young as possible."