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The government has told colleges to monitor web browsing for Islamic extremist sites and report students to police, drawing criticism from union chiefs that it could alienate muslim communities.

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) released a "toolkit" yesterday calling on IT departments to "prevent staff or students from accessing illegal or inappropriate material through college ICT systems, including having appropriate monitoring systems in place with recourse to police and other partners as necessary."

"Using college computers to email terrorist publications to others would be a criminal offence," it continues. The DIUS document also notes the use of social networking sites by extremist groups to "promote their message and to encourage engagement".

A DIUS spokeswoman said the government was not pushing a particular technology or policy, but that it hoped colleges would be prompted to "look at their IT policies".

A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) said such systems could make lecturers and students afraid to hold legitimate discussions of terrorism or carry out research. He called for the guidance to be changed.

The wide-ranging document places particular emphasis on Islamism rather than extremism generally.

"We are concerned about the emphasis on the Muslim community," said UCU general secretary Sally Hunt. "There is no getting away from the fact that the government's laudable plans for community cohesion will be damaged by the emphasis in the guidance on targeting colleges with large numbers of Muslim students."

Similar guidance was sent to universities last year after a series of news stories exposing that they were being targeted by banned Islamic groups.

The DIUS document, "Learning to be Safe - a toolkit to help colleges contribute to the prevention of violent extremism", is here (pdf). ®

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