Surge in University Students Flagged Under Prevent Program for Extremist Ideologies

The number of university students flagged under the UK government’s Prevent counter-extremism program has increased by 50% over the past two years, with “mixed, unclear, or unstable” (MUU) ideologies seeing the most significant rise, according to recent figures.

Increase in MUU Extremist Ideologies

The latest data from the Office for Students, the higher education regulator for England, reveals that students identified with MUU extremist ideologies now represent the largest category. MUU describes individuals exhibiting elements from multiple ideologies, such as men’s rights, incels, conspiracy theories, or those without a coherent ideology who may still be vulnerable to terrorism.

In the 2022-23 academic year, 210 Prevent cases were escalated within the higher education sector, up from 165 in 2021-22 and 139 in 2020-21. The lower figures during the earlier years can be partly attributed to campus closures due to the Covid pandemic.

Rising Concern Among Researchers

Patrik Hermansson, a senior researcher at Hope Not Hate, which campaigns against racism and fascism, expressed concern over the rise in university referrals. “The increase aligns with the growing interest in extremist ideologies among young people in the UK,” Hermansson noted. He added that the MUU category is broad and poorly defined, often reflecting individuals with extreme views on single issues, such as misogyny, or those with esoteric worldviews like those of the Order of Nine Angles, a Nazi satanist organization, and conspiracism.

Escalation and Referral Trends

MUU extremism cases have nearly doubled in two years, with 95 cases escalated to institutional Prevent lead officers in 2022-23, compared to 50 in 2020-21. Of these, 55 cases were concerning enough to seek external Prevent advice, up from 31 two years ago. Formal Prevent referrals for MUU extremism rose from 13 in 2020-21 to 30 in the latest academic year.

Cases of alleged Islamist and extreme right-wing radicalization have also seen slight increases over the past year. Suspected Islamist radicalization cases rose from 35 in 2021-22 to 40 in 2022-23, while extreme right-wing cases increased from 30 to 35.

Context and Broader Implications

The most recent data covers the 2022-23 academic year and does not include the period following the Hamas attack on October 7 and the subsequent conflict in Gaza. However, it does address the issue of external campus speakers, indicating that less than 1% of these were rejected in 2022-23, primarily for procedural reasons.

This surge in Prevent cases among university students highlights a growing concern over the spread of extremist ideologies and the need for continued vigilance and intervention within the higher education sector.

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