Thoughts on HEFCE’s consultation on monitoring compliance with PREVENT


HEFCE has published its consultation on the monitoring framework for compliance with the new statutory duty to have due regard to the need to ensure people are not drawn into terrorism. The proposed framework will consist of an initial self-assessment, submission of detailed material to enable HEFCE to assess the adequacy of the measures proposed, an annual report on implementation of the duty, and five-year review by HEFCE of the detailed policies and procedures of a sample of RHEBs (relevant higher education bodies).

It contains a few interesting points:

·        It appears to resolve the anomaly identified in this earlier blog on the subject, that not all institutions to which the duty applied were subject to duties relating to free speech and academic freedom. The solution is simple: everyone will pretend they do apply. Sajiv Javid’s letter designating HEFCE as Prevent monitor states: “I welcome all RHEBs having regard to the need to ensure freedom of speech on campus and the importance of academic freedom, whether or not they are legally bound to do so, and HEFCE should exercise its functions and monitoring activities accordingly”. So that’s alright then.

·         “The Government” has made it clear to HEFCE that its monitoring function is not just to check that RHEBs have appropriate policies and procedures but also that these are “robust” and fit for purpose. This appears to signal a qualitative evaluation function and it will be interesting to see how HEFCE goes about assessing whether or not risks have been adequately identified and/or whether particular policies are effective to address the risks identified. One senses from the Consultation document that this requirement perhaps goes further than HEFCE would have wanted. It’s also not clear which bit of “the Government” has made this clear: Javid’s letter doesn’t allude to it which suggests this might be a Home Office intervention, a department not famous for the high regard in which it holds institutional autonomy.

·        There is an acknowledgement that HEFCE does not necessarily know exactly which organisations are covered by the prevent duty. As it identifies new RHEBs, they will be brought within the monitoring framework.

·        The Holy Grail of the monitoring framework is assurance that RHEB’s “fully satisfy” the Government’s guidance, which in turn refers at points to “full mitigation”  (as opposed to reduction) of risks. It may be a long time before RHEB’s can be confident that they fully satisfy the Prevent guidance given its rather vague yet wide-ranging obligations. Already we are seeing significant variations of approach to the degree of compliance that can realistically be achieved.

·         Specific Prevent-related incidents may need to be notified to HEFCE as “serious incidents”. This could presumably trigger a range of interventions – directions from the Home Secretary as to better compliance with Prevent, a request to the Charity Commission to instigate a formal inquiry, or even, the consultation suggests, advice to BIS about specific course designation.

·         HEFCE has not yet finalized its reporting obligations to BIS, but these are likely to consist of set, periodic reports, based on its periodic monitoring activities, and ad-hoc reports where there are specific concerns about a particular RHEB.

The consultation closes at noon on 23 October 2015.

Smita Jamdar 
Partner and Head of Education
T: 0121 214 0332 

From → General Interest

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