“It is important that young people understand legitimate forms of political activity and dissent rather than being silenced out of fear.”

After inspiring many protests, UK government’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy has proved controversial. Prevent, which was launched in 2009, has obligated UK public bodies to take active measures in preventing extremist acts across the country.

The year 2015 saw the government accusing institutions of higher education, including Kings College, SOAS, Queen Mary’s and Kingston University, of welcoming “hate speakers”.

Some universities responded with details of these speakers. SOAS, for example, claimed cleric Haitham Al-Haddad simply lectured on laws of interest in Islamic finance.

Queen Mary’s denied all allegations and placed emphasis on their compliance with new vetting criteria designed for external speakers.

Further compliance was demonstrated by a report in the Independent revealing how the university informed students their emails would be monitored in attempts to counter extremism.

Discourse between authoritative student bodies and the institutions themselves have been well documented, however, the effects of this government policy on the personal student experience has been rather mute. So when students were asked for their insight, many were eager to share.

Juhi Verma, history student at SOAS, discussed her experience of speaking on a BBC panel about the UK government’s legislation.

A debate designed to give voice to the opinions of those most affected resulted in a strong rhetoric of ‘if you have nothing to hide, what are you even worried about?’ But Prevent is what we’re worried about.

“University is an environment where students should feel safe to explore academic findings without fear of being targeted for pre-criminality as a result of racial profiling.”

The 20-year-old continued: “Stories of children from ethnic backgrounds being taken out of class for mispronouncing suspicious words or using triggering language when talking about holidays to see family in Asia and the Middle East has made many feel as though it is safer to remain quiet.”

Verma believes Prevent is “stifling healthy discussion and discouraging freedom of expression” within higher education.

She added:

“It is important that young people understand legitimate forms of political activity and dissent rather than being silenced out of fear.”

Verma then shared that during a South Asian history tutorial one student claimed they felt nervous when critiquing British imperialism in their essays because it would be manipulated out of context.

Designed to provide a framework to tackle what has been described as the “rise in radicalisation”, the Prime Minister assures its presence is to protect the most vulnerable.

Many students, however, have voiced their concerns.

The programme has resulted in numerous incidents of wrongly accusing students. Government figures reveal the number of referrals reached 8,000 in 2016.

We are scared too” Laila Muskat, a master’s student from City University, said.

She thinks Prevent denies British Arabs and Asians their own fears of terrorism.

“Extremism puts our families at risk too, we are all in this together but strategies like Prevent rather than uniting, work to alienate community groups from one another.”

Capitalising on trigger words like “radicalisation” and simplifying what she describes as “the complexity of the issue” has given the government permission to scaremonger.

Terrorism today comes in all shapes and sizes. The murder of Jo Cox by Thomas Mair, an English man of Caucasian descent, is evidence that the threat today is more diverse than ever.”

Muskat also emphasised the policy as “misguided and ill-informed remaining fixated on the idea that ideology is the primary driver of terrorism.

Islamic terrorists are not ordinary Muslims; they lack religious literacy, and the connection represented between the moderate and extremist does not correspond with the way Muslims actually live their lives across the UK.”

Aqsa Latif, student at UCL, voiced identity struggles as being the most significant effect of Prevent on her student experience.

It promotes a singular idea of what it means to be British.”

The 20-year-old referred to it at one point as a “purity test similar to something you would witness in Medieval Europe”.

She said: “It [Prevent] reversed social interaction back to the days of casual racism in the playground pushing anyone with dual identity to feel rejected by both.

Often people would make you feel as though only two categories existed, those that are ‘radicalised or helping to eradicate radicalism’.”

This internal conflict can often lead to far more impacting effects on students, particularly in terms of their mental health.

But there are government officials like Diane Abott who have expressed the urgent need for restructuring of the programme.

Lucy Minter, a European student from Warwick University, echoed this and said:

“If UK leadership honestly prioritises the will of its citizens, then the moment people identify Prevent as a threat to their civil and political rights is the moment changes should be made.”