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UCU responds to plans to spy on students

16 October 2006

UCU has responded to reports this morning that university staff may be asked to spy on Asian-looking and Muslim students.

Commenting on the impact the proposed measures would have on higher education, UCU joint general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Academic freedom is a key tenet of any democratic society, even if this sometimes means the discussion of ideas that many would find unacceptable. Universities have traditionally encouraged debate, allowed students the opportunity to broaden their horizons and challenge opinion.

'UCU fought hard to stop academic freedom being eroded in the recent Terrorism Bill. We will not accept further government attempts to restrict academic freedom or free speech on campus. There is little point in having these nominal freedoms if they can be removed when certain people don't like what they hear.

'If we really want to tackle problems like extremism and terrorism then we need to be safe to explore the issue and get a better understanding of it. The last thing we need is people too frightened to discuss an issue because they fear some quasi secret service will "turn them in".'

UCU joint general secretary, Paul Mackney, added: 'UCU has expressed its concern to the Minister that our members may be sucked into an anti-Muslim McCarthyism which has serious consequences for civil liberties by blurring the boundaries of what is illegal and what is possibly undesirable. UCU members have a pivotal role in building trust - these proposals, if implemented, would make it all but impossible.

'There is a danger of demonising Muslims, for example by the statements of five ministers in the last couple of weeks, when actually Muslims have made enormous strides in getting more of their young people to universities and colleges.

'The government's premise is wrong: radicalisation is not the result of Islamist segregation, but government policy, especially in Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq. Even so, radicalisation is not the same as violent extremism or terrorism.'

Last updated: 15 December 2015