Australia: Study warns universities could be used for Islamic terrorist recruiting
Universities need to consider asking lecturers to monitor students for extremist behaviour on behalf of national security organisations, a new study says.
A policy analysis released today by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) warns that Australia's 39 universities, with more than 1 million students and staff, were both potential terrorist targets as well as potential terrorist recruiting grounds.
Authors, ASPI director of research Anthony Bergin and ASPI research fellow Raspal Khosa, said there were 175,589 overseas students enrolled in Australian higher education institutions in 2005.
Those institutions were increasingly looking abroad for students. Australia already is the third most popular education destination for those from the Middle East.
The Government of Saudi Arabia had turned to Australia to educate its tertiary students following the crackdown on student visas in the US and Britain.
Dr Bergin and Mr Khosa said large numbers of foreign students provided opportunities for potential terrorists to blend in.
"The improper use of student visas may see universities used to further terrorist intent," they said.
They suggested the creation of a regular information-sharing forum between the national security community and the peak universities body, Universities Australia, to discuss such issues as priorities for terrorism research.
"One sensitive issue that would need to be canvassed at such a forum is the matter of academics monitoring students on behalf of security agencies," they said.
This is happening in Britain where academic staff have been requested to log suspicious behaviour and report to police.
They have also been asked to vet Islamic preachers invited to campuses and ensure hate literature is not distributed.
"Many academics would argue that some of these practices undermine the trust needed between lecturers and students to freely exchange ideas and debate controversial issues," Dr Bergin and Mr Khosa said.
"On the other hand, there is not a formal confidentiality arrangement between lecturers and students."
The report warns that universities are also potential terrorist targets, featuring modest security, easy access and large numbers of people attending to timetable.
That was demonstrated by the massacre of 32 student and staff by a deranged student gunman at Virginia Tech University in the US on April 16.
Dr Bergin and Mr Khosa said universities were symbolic targets. Many Australian universities had overseas campuses that might be seen as targets for militant Islamists in their war against the West.
Universities could also be targeted because of the presence of high profile individuals such as the student children of VIPs or visiting VIPs themselves.
Such an attack would have significant consequences well beyond the immediate carnage.
"An attack on a university campus in Australia would have a detrimental effect on the economy," they said.
"In particular it would adversely impact on overseas students' desire to study here. After an attack our universities may not be seen as safe places to study."
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