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Radicalisation and higher education: Students’ understanding and experiences

Terrorism and Political ViolenceJournal abstract

Since 2015 universities have been placed under a legal duty of “due regard to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.”1 This reflects the belief in UK counter-terrorism policy that radicalisation exists and can be countered. Advice to universities is largely silent on how this duty applies to teaching. Yet many degree programmes generate lectures and seminar discussions where views of an allegedly radicalised nature could be aired. This article presents focus group research which elicits students’ understanding of radicalisation, and provides insights into their experience of debating contentious issues such as identity, community cohesion, and the causes of terrorism. We argue that students’ understanding of radicalisation is conflated with extremism and we explore students’ anxiety about debating these issues and reliance on educators to create the right environment for such discussions. Finally, the data presented here challenges some of the assumptions underpinning contemporary counter-radicalisation policy in the domain of higher education, which are premised on ideas of active grooming. We argue that this does not accord with students’ own experiences, as they regard themselves as discerning, critical thinkers rather than inherently vulnerable to manipulation by those espousing violent extremist views.