They are becoming targets for radical groups linked to al-Qa’eda that are attempting to recruit impressionable young people in Britain, it is claimed.
The disclosure is made in new guidance designed to clamp down on extremism on university campuses.
In a document published today, ministers warn that higher education institutions face a “serious but not widespread” threat from radical groups, insisting there is “no single profile” of potential recruits.
“They are likely to be generally younger than 30 and male, although the number of women who support and participate in violent extremism is increasing,” it was revealed.
The assessment followed the conviction of Samina Malik, the “lyrical terrorist” who worked at a branch of WH Smith at Heathrow Airport. She wrote poems about martyrdom and the beheading of unbelievers and received a suspended jail term last year.
The Government guidance stressed that “the vast majority of Muslims” in Britain rejected violent extremism, but said that academics should be aware of the “recruitment and grooming process” used by extremist groups in universities.
The document added: “Taking control of Friday prayers, other prayer meetings or sermons and the use of charismatic radical speakers can be means by which extreme groups seek to spread their message.”
However, the Government insist that radical scholars with “abhorrent” views should not be automatically banned from campuses.
Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, insisted that open debate on controversial issues was the “most effective way” of tackling radical views among students.
He said: “We prize academic freedom and freedom of speech as ends in themselves and as the most effective way of challenging the views which we may find abhorrent but that remain within the law.”
The new document focuses on the importance of academic freedom.
The previous guidance in 2006 provoked anger among Muslim students, who were worried about being unfairly targeted.
The University and College Union, which represents thousands of lecturers, complained that they were being asked to “spy” on undergraduates.
The new document said that universities should consider “sharing information” on speakers “who are deemed inappropriate to speak on campus, or those who are involved in any form of extremist activity”.
Prof Anthony Glees, from Brunel University, said the Government had appeared to “cave in” to academics.
“By wording its guidance in this way the Government may be lowering the bar on what constitutes acceptable views and I suspect this will let quite a lot of extremists walk in,” he added.
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