The University of Greenwich has had our share of radicalisation-related headlines, notably the former student who murdered Lee Rigby in Woolwich in 2013. Our investigation into whether the student had been radicalised at Greenwich informed our approach to complying with the Government’s Prevent duty, the legal obligation for universities to keep their students from being drawn into terrorism. We came up with an interpretation that focuses on the wellbeing of members of our university community.
After that case, we commissioned an independent inquiry to investigate whether there was any evidence that the students’ union, student societies, or the external environment had contributed to any radicalisation. It also considered the existing policies, procedures and controls to prevent extremism, radicalisation and violence.
While no evidence of radicalisation or violent extremism was found, the group did produce several recommendations on speakers and events policies, as well as pastoral support.
We responded by framing all policies and procedures related to the Prevent duty with a wellbeing focus. This is part of a holistic approach to welfare and support. This work is about people – how staff work together and how they can support students.
At Greenwich we use the term ‘wellbeing’ as a broad concept, beyond specific categories like mental health. Across the university, it is used as the language of concern and provides a platform for conversations with students. This made it entirely appropriate to position the issue of radicalisation as an integrated element.
It’s proven successful, fostering an institutional culture that is focused on wellbeing, and improving the quality of relationships within the university – particularly between staff and students.
We have also structured our pastoral support in a networked way, to incorporate all aspects of support services. This has enabled effective working across teams on all three of the university’s campuses, with partnerships between individual staff members and functional areas.
When we produced our framework on ‘students giving cause for concern’ in 2015, we included radicalisation as another aspect of wellbeing and welfare, no different to any other. The framework provides guidance and support for all staff who come into contact with students to help them manage concerns or incidents appropriately. It signposts the support available and gives information to help staff ensure that students receive the right support for their problems in a co-ordinated way.
This has helped to build staff confidence in their ability to manage these situations, reassuring them that they are expected only to act in line with their existing pastoral capacity.
In 2016 we introduced a health, wellbeing and fitness to study policy to provide a more holistic wellbeing support package for students. It is designed to manage more severe problems, considering the best interests of students in relation to their personal situations, mental health and general wellbeing – with the focus on enabling them to progress and finish their courses.
The policy works as an open process, encouraging input from students or staff at any time. It has three levels.
- The first addresses emerging concerns so that action can be taken quickly and informally
- The second level is based upon supportive intervention. It involves a case review panel, consisting of staff and with student participation encouraged
- The final stage is a fitness to study panel, incorporating a wider range of expert staff, and always including the students’ union. The university considers all possible options to enable students to continue with their studies
By the third stage, it is apparent that temporary exclusion, suspension or withdrawal may be the appropriate outcome. Where suspension occurs, conditions are defined to set out requirements before the student may return. In the first year, one case reached the second level, and two the third.
We believe that this approach works because it provides a joined-up response, integrating services and expertise across academic and professional services. It has facilitated the use of discursive practice which is a classic safeguarding approach, allowing information to be shared between relevant people about particular students, but only as is needed to protect and support them. The approach is academically-led and is very gentle, with the aim of engaging the student.
This approach is certainly detailed and time-consuming, but all the staff involved have found it to be worthwhile, even if its success is not guaranteed. The networked approach and good working relationships make it less likely that students might slip through the net, or that behaviour which could be attributable to radicalisation might be missed. It is not a foolproof solution, but it does make it more likely that we can obtain a fuller picture of individual students’ circumstances, and reduces the probability of certain details or behaviour (perhaps seen in different parts of the university) from being overlooked.
We believe we have an effective system, with the Prevent duty built into our culture of wellbeing. The support of the students’ union has been fundamental, stimulating lots of positive engagement from students. But it will continue to take careful management, monitoring and further refinement to ensure this success continues.