McGlynn, Catherine and McDaid, Shaun (2016) Radicalisation and higher education: students’ understanding and experiences. Terrorism and Political Violence. ISSN 0954-6553

Since 2015 Universities, and other educational and public bodies, have been placed under a legal duty of “due regard to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. This reflects the belief in UK counter-terrorism policy that radicalisation exists and can be countered. Advice to universities focuses on vetting speakers and IT security, remaining largely silent on how this legal duty applies to teaching. Yet, many social science and humanities programmes generate lectures and seminar discussions where views of an allegedly radicalised nature could be aired. This article presents focus group research conducted with social science undergraduates, designed to elicit their understanding of radicalisation, and gain 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, reflecting how the two concepts have been elided in counter-terrorism circles and the media. We also explore students’ anxiety about debating these issues and reliance on educators to create the right environment for such discussions, maintaining trust and common bonds in the current atmosphere of heightened security. 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. This does not accord with students’ own experiences, who regard themselves as discerning, critical thinkers rather than inherently vulnerable to manipulation by those espousing violent extremist views.

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