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Mind the Gap: troubled implementation of the Prevent Duty at UK Universities

James Maxia, Eva Thomann and Jörn Ege find that there is a considerable implementation gap at UK universities of the ‘Prevent Duty’ introduced under the 2015 Counter-Terrorism and Security Act wherein university lecturers are legally required to identify and report any student they suspect may be undergoing a process of radicalisation. The results of a nationally representative survey suggest the Prevent Duty faces a severe acceptance problem at the frontline. Many lecturers find it difficult to reconcile the role that the Prevent Duty should play in their daily work with what they conceive to be their core professional values and tasks.

In September 2017, a teenager from Surrey, Ahmed Hassan, attempted to detonate a homemade explosive device during a failed terrorist attack on the London underground. In the aftermath of this incident, details surrounding the perpetrator’s participation in the government’s deradicalisation programme – Prevent – in the months prior to the attack prompted further public scrutiny towards the policy. In 2015, the UK government had enacted the Counterterrorism and Security Act, which introduced a statutory requirement for professionals working for education and healthcare institutions to undergo training in recognising signs of radicalisation and a requirement report anyone they suspect of being radicalised. The 2017 incident fuelled existing concerns and contributed towards casting doubt on Prevent’s overall effectiveness and legitimacy. Several vocational and societal groups have expressed strong opposition to the Prevent policy, arguing that it clashes with professional norms of confidentiality and encourages limitations on freedom of expression and discriminatory profiling. In 2016, a group of lecturers from the University of Manchester published a letter detailing their opposition to the policy and voicing concern for “the role of the lecturer, the sanctity of academic freedoms and intellectual curiosity” as well as the undermining of diversity on campus. These concerns were further echoed when in 2019 a judicial review of the Prevent Duty guidance issued to universities by the government found it to be in violation of free speech.

The Prevent policy was originally conceived in 2003 as part of the broader UK counterterrorism strategy (CONTEST) which is predicated on four main objectives: prepare for attacks, protect potential targets while pursuing and preventing terrorist activity (Ibid). The success of the Prevent strand rests on the ability to identify (potentially) radicalised individuals. While the Prevent Duty applies to a range of institutions, one important locus for its implementation are universities, where young individuals make key formative experiences. Among those newly tasked with implementing this duty are university lecturers, who are legally required to report any personal or classroom interactions that may indicate a student undergoing a process of radicalisation.

At first glance it may seem counter-intuitive to engage University lecturers, who have spent most of their careers doing research and teaching academic subjects most of which are unrelated to terrorism, in preventing radicalisation. However, the Prevent Duty is just one example of an ever-growing trend toward “new modes of governance” that involve actors from the private and voluntary sectors into the delivery of public policy. These actors are typically deemed to be in a unique position to help reach the policy goals (here: preventing radicalisation) better than any governmental actor could do it. University lecturers, for instance, interact regularly with students and, particularly in the social sciences and humanities, discuss topics with them that touch upon societal and political issues. They should thus be the first to notice if individual students appear to “go astray”. Asking them to report such individuals seems much more efficient and effective than sending police officers or social workers to campuses to look out for such individuals. What makes the Prevent Duty special, however, is its uniquely politically sensitive and contested nature. As the above mentioned events illustrate, not only its effectiveness, but indeed also its legitimacy are being questioned. But what do we really know about how Uk lecturers think, feel and act when implementing the Prevent Duty in their daily work?


In our ongoing study, which has received ethics approval from the University of Exeter, we focus on the role of lecturers in implementing the Prevent Duty. We performed an anonymous online survey in November 2020, to which we invited all lecturers currently teaching at a Social Science or Humanities department at a UK university. We received 1005 responses of which 84.68 percent have a permanent contract at a UK university that involves some form of student contact. Our survey had three main goals. On the one hand, we sought to obtain information about the extent to which UK lecturers are informed about the Prevent Duty, and have made concrete experiences with its application. On the other hand, we confronted lecturers with a fictitious scenario of a student contact to get an impression of their willingness to actually implement the Prevent Duty the way it is intended. Finally, the survey helped us to learn about the attitudes of lecturers toward the policy.

Is the prevent duty effectively implemented at UK universities?

The good news first: the vast majority—86.34 percent—of the respondents have heard about the prevent duty. Moreover, the majority—59.08 percent—are at least somewhat familiar with the Prevent Duty regulations for UK universities. However, a surprisingly large percentage of the lecturers (62.41 percent) report to never have received training on the Prevent Duty. Most of those who do report having received training describe it as being “self-guided material provided by the university” (66.93 percent), as opposed to actual workshops or meetings. We further asked lecturers whether they have ever been in a situation where they believed the Prevent Duty could have been applicable. Only 14.98 per cent indicated this to be the case once or several times. These numbers suggest that (potential) student radicalisation indicating action under the Prevent Duty is a rare event in lecturers’ professional practice. Moreover, many lecturers appear to be only superficially aware of what concretely they are expected to do under the Prevent Duty.

In order to nevertheless gain a robust picture of potential compliance with the Prevent Duty, we also presented the lecturers with a fictitious scenario that, according to the rules, clearly represents a case that needs to be reported, as follows:

“You are having a conversation with a student of yours. The student tells you they have been browsing on a website of a group that is known for its approval of the use of violence or of illegal means, which it sees as unavoidable for changing the existing societal order. The student expresses sympathy with the philosophy of the group and the readings promoted on that website, and speaks about the need to get involved in the cause.”

For various subgroups we then specified either the nature of the threat (right-wing extremism or Islamism) and the closeness of the mentoring relationship.

Figure 1: preferred course of action after being exposed to fictitious student contact scenario (multiple answers possible; N=809)

After being presented with this scenario, the majority (78.86 per cent) find the student’s behavior somewhat or very concerning both to their own safety and that of others. Nevertheless, less than half (33.37 percent) consider themselves likely to report the student under the Prevent Duty. As Figure 1 shows, only about 21.76 percent would formally refer the student. Instead, lecturers’ preferred options are to seek advice from colleagues (72.18 percent) or, mainly, to speak to the student privately (74.78 percent). There appear to be significant barriers to an effective implementation of the Prevent Duty at UK universities.

What role for the Prevent Duty in lecturers’ daily work?

Most of the lecturers we surveyed do not see the implementation of the Prevent Duty as a major priority in their daily work (89.74 percent). Instead they prioritize defending academic freedom, delivering high-quality education (91.58 percent), as well as ensuring and delivering equal treatment, opportunity and mentoring to students (93.69 percent). Our survey makes it very clear that lecturers consider these (and to a much lesser degree, contributing towards the University’s ability to compete for students and provide good value for money), to be the essential elements of their daily work. At the same time, the lecturers fear that the Prevent Duty might potentially cause them to compromise on their standards of educating students and defending academic freedom (53.29 percent), providing equal treatment, mentoring and pastoral care to students (55.40 percent).

In contrast, most lecturers agree that being able to act in accordance with their own values, ideological principles and political convictions is a major priority in their daily work. About half of them (45.45 percent) perceive that having to apply the Prevent Duty may cause them to compromise on their political and ideological principles and values. Accordingly, only a relatively small fraction of the surveyed lecturers (17.56 percent) report to be willing to put efforts into implementing the Prevent Duty to achieve its goals. The Prevent Duty, in other words, faces a severe acceptance problem at the frontline.

These results illuminate that even if the training can and should be improved, getting UK lecturers to police and report their own students might be a very difficult or even impossible task. It appears that many lecturers perceive the Prevent Duty to stand at odds with core values and tasks of their own profession. Moreover, the politically sensitive nature of the prevent duty might pose serious obstacle for its implementation. Given that their work requires lecturers to build a relationship of trust with students and defend academic freedom—both of which they perceive to stand at odds with the Prevent Duty—, this implementation gap is unlikely to disappear. Handing over a core state task such as antiterrorism policy to societal actors without considering the compatibility with their existing responsibilities is unlikely to be an effective approach to preventing student radicalisation.


Attitudes to digital contact tracing: citizens do not always prioritise privacy and prefer a centralised NHS system over a decentralised one.

Citizens’ concerns about data privacy may reduce adoption of COVID-19 contact tracing apps, making them less effective. Based on a choice experiment (conjoint experiment), Laszlo Horvath, Susan Banducci, and Oliver James find that citizens do not always prioritise privacy and prefer a centralised NHS system. They also find support for a mixture of contact tracing done digitally with limited human involvement. On the basis of these findings, they argue that the potential for the adoption of such apps in the UK appears high.

The government recently rolled out its contact tracing app in England and Wales. This launch came about after many stops and starts in developing and trialling an app – six months behind Singapore, the first country to adopt an app, and four months behind the first European apps in Italy and France. An element of a successful test and trace system, digital contact tracing relies on mobile applications and wearable technologies to record when users are in close proximity to one another for an extended period of time, and then notify a user if one of their contacts has tested positive for COVID-19. The app launched in England and Wales, which relies on existing Apple and Google technology to record contacts on the handheld device, also includes features where users can scan a QR code to record their location as well as an isolation counter to keep track of the days spent in isolation if needed.

For effective deployment of the new technology, public trust and confidence is key. Initial interpretations of an Oxford study suggested uptake and use would need to be around 60% for a contact tracing app to be successful, although recent estimates clarify that digital contact tracing is successful at much lower rates as well (at 15%) if combined with other interventions. Yet there is more to confidence-building than those initial adoption rates. In the words of an Isle of Wight GP: “My concern when the public […] will feel ‘what’s in it for me’ and be disincentivised. The truth is very little is in it for them other than the greater good,” the BBC quotes.

Our research was motivated by concerns about privacy as a limit to potential for citizen take-up of apps. In fact, using a conjoint experimental design, we found that citizens do not always prioritise privacy but give high preference to a centralised system led by the NHS over a decentralised system such as the one rolled out. This may be related to the strong support for the NHS during the crisis, one manifestation of this having been the nationwide clap for NHS carers, and the perception that the NHS should be part of the solution for the health crisis. Even when we highlighted a salient threat of unauthorised access or data theft, it did not significantly alter respondents’ preferences. We further find that citizens tend to support a mixture of contact tracing done digitally with limited human involvement. On the basis of these findings, the potential for adoption of apps appears high.

Earlier in the summer, and just weeks after our data collection finished, decisionmakers in the UK abandoned the NHS-led centralised system. According to news reports, this had more to do with technical failure than privacy concerns, though earlier the government insisted that the existence of the centralised NHS server improves the process of contact tracing by making audits and system adaptation possible while also minimising the number of low-risk notifications. While decentralised systems, such as the one being rolled out now, are praised for better overall privacy-preserving features, the lack of central oversight does limit human involvement – in practice, however, this is a legislative feature. After the failure of the first tracking app, it is unclear how meaningfully digital contact tracing will be integrated with the other elements of the test and trace process.

Our findings also highlight additional questions about how citizens’ relationship with their public health authorities affects cooperation with initiatives like digital contact tracing. In the UK, a long history of publicly funded, largely free at point of delivery, high-profile healthcare appears to have created the pre-conditions supportive to cooperate with national public health programmes. This opportunity has not so far been sufficiently exploited but could bode well for adoption of the new app system now that it is finally being rolled out for England and Wales.

The initial uptake of the ‘Protect Scotland’ mobile app launched by NHS Scotland earlier in September is consistent with this view, with over one million downloads within the first week. The challenge will be making sure the government keeps its side of the bargain in rapidly testing, quickly turning around results and then, for those who test positive, tracing contact – providing information quickly enough to those who were potentially exposed to the virus to isolate themselves before individuals transmit the infection to others. The app is only intended to improve the efficiency of the latter stage of an effective test and trace system. As the recent estimates indicate, there are significant issues with the first stages.

It is accepted even among those who are developing and promoting a contact tracing app that it is one tool in a comprehensive test and trace programme. Even if the app is enthusiastically downloaded and used by individual if the rest of the test and trace system, including effective and speedy testing and human contact tracing, is not delivering, the initial enthusiasm on the part of citizens to cooperate may wane.

originally posted at

No, even this time is not that different COVID-19, the sudden and mysterious death of the SGP and European integration

By Jonathan C. Kamkhaji University of Exeter associate fellow and Polytechnic University of Milan

What if, within a couple of weeks, the term limit for US presidency was removed? What if, within the same couple of weeks, the UK abandoned its signature first-past-the-post and turned to proportional representation? What if, within the same limited amount of time, Italy surrendered perfect bicameralism or France rejected semi-presidentialism? Although these may seem outlandish questions, the magnitude and pace of the change triggered by COVID-19 on economic policy coordination within Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) resembled that of the above hyperboles.

In a nutshell, the European Union (EU), less than a month after the epidemic curve started its raise in Italy in February, simply suspended its much contested and polarizing mechanism for multilateral economic surveillance – the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP).

Literally in the blink of an eye, those rules that seemed to be, if not eternal, at least stable and structural elements of economic policy coordination within the EMU and key to guarantee its stability and trustworthiness vis-à-vis global markets and investors, disappeared. Technically, they were simply put in abeyance not to get in the way of Member States’ countercyclical fiscal expansions. Practically, the set of rules and parameters to which EMU Member States had voluntarily agreed to subscribe in order to deter fiscal profligacy and extreme financial follies since the early 90s have been discretely set aside for an indefinite amount of time – and no mayhem has, as of yet, unfolded in international financial and debt markets. This is even more remarkable if we realize that the suspension of the disciplinarian mechanism took place against a war-like global scenario poised to mark worst global GDP contraction of the last century.

Needless to say, this change is having and will have far-reaching implications for EU economies and economic and political integration, but I think that while these implications are still brewing within the EU (with the establishment of recovery funds and true fiscal solidarity as the main themes) it is more important, for now, to focus on how this sudden stop and reversal of rules for fiscal discipline has materialised. This is because the EU (and we…) live in times of polycrises, that is, crises that are multiple and overlapping, creating thereof polycleavages. Some go as far as arguing that the whole EU decisions and policy making is undergoing a process of crisisification, understood as the normalization of “crisis‐oriented methods for arriving at collective decisions”. What’s remarkable, however, is not simply the accumulation of crises and its influence on EU decision and policy making, but rather the fact that the EU is actually deepening its economic and political integration, not despite the crises, but through the crises.

Then, if crisis mood has become the new normal for the EU, and crises indeed have the potential to deepen integration, the question is how to explain this further quantum leap in terms of existing models and theory of integration. At the outset, we note that the EU, although entangled in and somewhat plagued by its fragmented governance, has a penchant, at least in the economic realm, for spot, landmark political decisions – like the decisions to renege on the no-bailout clause of Maastricht and rescue Greece in 2010, or to reinterpret monetary neutrality and do “whatever it takes” to save the common currency. Interestingly, those landmark decisions, like the one suspending the SGP, were purely political and came with little or no policy attached.

In all of these crises it is only ex post, after the grand political declarations have been fed to the public, that policy commences its engine, crucially surfing on the feedback of the initial declaration effect. A similar dynamic is captured by a number of new models of integration and crisis management. One of such models is failing forward. According to the model, intergovernmental decision making, which typically occurs in times of crisis, systematically leads to incomplete institutional design. The latter stimulates functional spill overs which in turn lead to further crisis. Crises are then faced again by piecemeal intergovernmental decisions which sow the seeds of future crises and failure. As a result, the EU invariably fails forward. Applying the insight of this model to the current crisis may be depressing but in fact we can already see the merits of the failing forward argument when we observe the massive political conflict which unfolded after the decision of suspending the SGP and rethinking the whole fiscal arm (and economic governance) of EMU. Call me a pessimist, but a piecemeal, incomplete integration of fiscal policies is still more likely than the comprehensive reform the EU needs in the fiscal domain. Yet again, a stern political turn in the right direction mitigated by incremental and insufficient policy instrumentation and institutions.

Another model which draws on contested governance and comes to interesting conclusions about crisis management and integration is presented by Jabko in its sociopsychological account of the Eurozone crisis of 2010-2013. This contribution points to the highly guarded boundaries of policy paradigms to show how decisions taken under conditions of extreme uncertainty (typical of crises) defy paradigmatic expectations and conform instead to malleable repertoires. As crisis decision making is constrained by material and cognitive limitations, the resort to rigid blueprints for action like paradigms takes place post hoc, in the policy phase, but is hardly observable in the context of the single decision which triggers the whole process of change. Yet again, this argument may lead to bitter conclusions. If suspending the SGP may have been a correct decision pushed by the acuteness of the crisis, and defying more than 20 years of ordoliberal paradigm, the construction of institutions and policy around this decision may bring us back, again, to an incomplete design of fiscal integration.

The last model which may explain the sudden and mysterious death of the SGP is contingent learning. According to this model, in episodes crisis management characterized by stress, uncertainty, time pressure and demands for rapid action, real-time policy change takes place through associative processes of contingent learning and the nature and scope of this behavioural change is greater than re-design and incremental adaptations. In change-or-die situations we find accidental heroes. They produce significant change and only later they reflect on ‘what have we done’ and start drawing inferences from experience, thus entering the world of classical policy learning – and policy making. If we stick to this model, we have then to hope for an ex post learning process which does not go back to the tenets of the old paradigms once the storm has been cushioned.

In any case, even this time does not seem to be different: existential threats provide the potential to lead in the right direction, but a little recovery may be enough to stick to the old, failing principles and decisional traps.



The impact of Brexit on Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) cooperation and safety and security in the UK and the European Union

Bill Tupman, Honorary Fellow, Centre for European Governance, University of Exeter
June 25, 2020

As Brexit approaches one of many questions is, what will its impact be on Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) cooperation and consequently on safety and security in the UK and the European Union? An unanticipated but related question is: what will the impact of Covid-19 be on the way crime is organised and hence on JHA?

The UK has always been an outlier in European Justice and Home Affairs policy. The adversarial system, the absence of judicial supervision of investigation, trial by jury and the Common Law system were the main obstacles to cooperation between England and Wales (but not Scotland which has a procuratorial system) and the police and courts in the rest of Europe, with the possible exception of Ireland. The ability and skill of UK detectives were admired as was the bottom-up nature of British policing: including high discretion of the individual police officer, absence of a direct entry officer force, unarmed policing, service policing, absence of political control and consequently policing without fear and favour. The stability of the British legal system was much admired, too, although this stability has been absent in recent years with constant legislative change in investigative and criminal law. In contrast the rest of the European Union followed Napoleonic models and what has been referred to as a Civil Law system, although, in fact there were and are two competing systems of judicial supervision: judge-led and prosecutor-led.

Justice and Home Affairs cooperation began as a response to a perceived threat from organised crime terrorism and immigration to stability and prosperity in the EU after the removal of the internal borders, assumed to be an inevitable consequence of the Single European Act. The first response was the Schengen Convention, but in the codicils to the treaty of Maastricht there was also a paper on the use of information technology to counter these problems. From this latter grew a series of databases, initially conceived as a way of facilitating police cooperation by abolishing jurisdictional borders by the use of cyberspace.

So post-Brexit, the possibility is that the UK becomes an offshore haven for transnational criminal actors, because extradition will be problematic, money-laundering will be easy and cooperation will be one way…The UK will expect cooperation from the rest of Europe in finding and returning its offenders from Europe, while refusing or delaying the extradition and provision of evidence to police and judicial authorities outside its borders. It also becomes attractive to people-smugglers as its stronger border controls will enable them to put their prices up. Criminal networks will change behaviour wherever they see opportunities for extra profits and lower likelihood of prosecution.

Criminal networks have had to change their modus operandi as a result of Covid-19. Fewer flights, ferry movements and movement in general make drug trafficking and people trafficking mire exposed to discovery by the security services. On the other hand, there are new opportunities: black markets in PPE, counterfeit medicines, snake oil salespersons, and fraudulent health products are obvious opportunities. So are personnel shortages in health services. Illicit drugs have already been discovered in consignments of PPE. The movement to commit crime via the internet will be further enhanced. Intelligence about the changing nature of criminality was always important, but the pace of change is on the increase. When Romanians are sent to Ireland to open bank accounts into which victims make payments for the purchase of non-existent goods, it is likely that they are doing the same in other countries and investigators need to know this as a matter of urgency.

Nonetheless, there is confidence on the UK side that there will be cooperation under the banner of Mutual Legal Aid agreements that will lead to the arrest and prosecution of criminals, but such confidence appears to underestimate the nature and complexity of cross-border criminal networks as well as their changing modus operandi. UK investigators and politicians, however favour disruption over prosecution, arguing that prosecution takes too long and that juries tend not to understand complex cases and therefore acquit. This may reflect a flaw in the adversarial system, however and further enhance the possibility of the UK becoming the refuge of choice for both criminal money and illicit venture capitalists.

If there is lack of reciprocity, there is a likelihood that Continental investigators will give UK requests for assistance a low priority. Requests via Interpol for information are unlikely to run as smoothly as European Arrest Warrants and European Information Orders unless there is to be significant UK investment in technology and personnel into Interpol. The Swedish Decision, for example, lays down an 8 hour turnaround time for urgent requests for intelligence and/or information, tapering to one week or even two in less urgent cases.

The present author, when fortunate enough to be invited to act as the UK “expert” on a project investigating the possibility of a single database in the EU for prosecutions of criminal offences, interviewed two members of the then NCIS . When asked what would be the top of a UK investigators’ shopping list, the answer was “data-sharing”. In other words a legal basis for sharing data between investigators in different countries. The Prüm Decision and, to an extent, the Swedish Decision, provided for this, but UK politicians are uncomfortable with it, partly because of supervision by the ECJ, but partly because though they might be happy to look at data from EU countries, they are much less happy to have investigators from those counties accessing UK data. The EU itself is, of course, very suspicious of UK data protection law and procedures. That the Home Office failed to admit the wrongful storage of data from EU databases and its sharing of such data with the US and probably the rest of the “Five Eyes” has strengthened this suspicion and made access to the Schengen database in particular unlikely after Brexit.

The Schengen Database enables border control cooperation, law enforcement cooperation and vehicle registration cooperation. At the end of 2017 it had 76 million records, it was accessed 5.2 billion times and recorded 243,818 hits ie searches that created an alert and the appropriate authorities agreed. In March 2018, exchange of fingerprint data was enabled. At the end of 2021 it will also be capable of sharing of biometric information, for example on missing persons, alerts on vulnerable persons, information on persons suspected of involvement in terrorism-related activities, bans on entry and other aspects of illegal immigration, plus extend alerts on other criminal activities. It will also provide enhanced access for other EU agencies. Exclusion from the database will increase response time for UK requests for intelligence and access to alerts on individuals.

The UK is already excluded from access to the Schengen information System for immigration alerts as it is not a member of Schengen. There are also databases run by Europol, along with the system of Joint Investigative Teams. The UK is likely to be able to negotiate access to SIENA, the Secure Information Network Exchange Application, as the USA and Australia have already successfully negotiated such access. It has nowhere near the capabilities of the Schengen Information System but is extending its activities. It should be possible for the UK to participate in joint investigative Teams as third countries may be invited to join a particular case, but, of course, subject to judicial supervision under the law of the lead country. It is unlikely that the UK would be allowed to lead a Joint Investigative Team, but the final agreement has not yet been negotiated. There is still an assumption that somehow the UK is superior in investigative skills, but as already noted, its record on fraud and financial investigations is not seen that way by the rest of the European Union.

It should not be forgotten that there are plusses for the EU in the departure of the UK from the JHA system. For example, will remove the last major obstacle to the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor, with the power to supervise cross-border investigation within the EU and bring prosecutions in appropriate national courts. Working alongside Eurojust, such an office should be able to tackle the problems of preserving the chain of evidence across judicial boundaries, identifying jurisdictional problems and further the process of creating European Criminal Law, perhaps even the Corpus Juris already proposed for prosecuting fraud against the European Budget, but more likely through a series of framework agreements and directives such as the Anti-Money Laundering Directives.

If there is one certainty, it is that police officers will always find a way to work together and that politicians will have to legislate to legalise their operation if it leads to successful interdictions of criminal networks. A Dutch Chief constable told me back in the 1980s that Schengen became necessary when Dutch cranial investigators were found to be operating south of Paris in pursuit of a drug trafficking operation. Information and intelligence will always be exchanged informally. The problem is turning such exchanges into evidence that can be used in Court, which is why justice and Home Affairs policy exists.

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