SOAS University of London

Muslim students self-censor on UK campuses, according to initial findings from SOAS research

10 September 2018

The preliminary findings from a major three-year SOAS research project looking at Islam on UK campuses has found that many Muslim students are self-censoring and disengaging from UK campus life as a result of the UK Government’s current counter-terrorism strategy Prevent.

The project, Re/presenting Islam on Campus led by Professor of Society and Belief Alison Scott-Baumann and funded by the AHRC and ESRC, has found many Muslim students modify their behaviour for fear of being stigmatised, labelled an extremist or subjected to discrimination.

The study also claims that Prevent, a Government strategy which seeks to stop students being drawn into terrorism, has led to wariness among Muslim and non-Muslim students about participating in research about religion, freedom of speech and campus life.

Professor Scott-Baumann, the principal investigator, said: “Ministers are accusing universities of using safe spaces and no platforming to suppress free speech but the initial findings of this research suggest that the chilling of free speech is coming from government initiatives.

“It is particularly regrettable when you consider that under British legislation, the right to free speech is legally protected, whereas the need to implement Prevent takes the form of guidance, not law.”

The research was based on a national survey of more than 2,000 students at UK universities. It also consisted of qualitative research at six universities, including interviews with about 300 students, academics and other staff; staff and student focus groups; and observations of classes and campus events. This is the largest study yet conducted and provides invaluable data

The team consists of Professor Scott-Baumann (PI), SOAS; Dr Aisha Phoenix, SOAS; Dr Shuruq Naguib, Lancaster University; Dr Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor, Coventry University; Dr Mathew Guest, Durham University; Kareem Darwish, SOAS.

The findings from the Re/presenting Islam on Campus project have also been reported in Times Higher Education and on BBC Radio 4 Sunday Programme (9 September 2018, 25:50)

Earlier this year Professor Scott-Baumann also gave evidence at the Joint Committee on Human Rights on free speech on campus and her research, conducted with Simon Perfect (SOAS) helped to shape the JCHR final report.