17/09/2015 06:24 BST | Updated 17/09/2015 06:59 BST

Ministers Urge National Union Of Students To Back Counter-Radicalisation Programme Prevent

Gareth Fuller/PA Archive
Jo Johnson, the new Head of Policy for the Conservative party, speaks during at meeting at Downing Street, London.

Ministers are urging the National Union of Students to back the government's counter-radicalisation programme Prevent after the union voted to oppose the strategy.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson has written to the NUS expressing his disappointment at the opposition to Prevent, the BBC reports.

In the letter to the NUS, Mr Johnson said: "Universities represent an important arena for challenging extremist views. It is important there can be active challenge and debate on issues relating to counter terrorism and provisions for academic freedom are part of the Prevent guidance for universities and colleges.

"It is my firm view that we all have a role to play in challenging extremist ideologies and protecting students on campus. Ultimately, the Prevent strategy is about protecting people from radicalisation.

"It is therefore disappointing to see overt opposition to the Prevent programme... The legal duty that will be placed on universities and colleges highlights the importance that the government places on this."

As of September 21, universities will be required to tackle gender segregation at events, implement assessment procedures for invited speakers and ensure staff training and student welfare programmes are in place to respond to signs of radicalisation.

David Cameron recently attacked the NUS for its links with "Jihadi John apologists" Cage. The prime minister said the NUS "shamed" itself by working with the organisation.

Cameron challenged universities to crack down on extremist speakers appearing on campus, saying officials turned a blind eye over a "mixture of misguided liberalism and cultural sensitivity".

A spokesperson for the NUS said: "Criticism and debate is at the heart of the policy-making process, and so we would encourage government to listen and reflect on the legitimate concerns that exist to their agenda, rather than attacking organisations for simply not agreeing with their approach.

"As students' unions are not public bodies, and therefore not subject to the Act, it's confusing that the government are so focused on our work.

"NUS is a campaigning organisation so our opposition to this agenda - based on both principled and practical concerns, and passed at our most recent national conference - is both valid and appropriate."

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