Approaches to the radicalisation of students vary according to country

At this conference organised by the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), Geling listened to a wide range of stories about the approach to radicalisation. ‘In general, you could say that the Brits follow a strict set of procedures and intervene quickly while we would consider their actions as endangering the freedom of expression.’


The Norwegians do almost the opposite. ‘Someone from the University of Oslo talked about Breivik who is being allowed to study political science while in prison. They hope that this will give him other ideas about democracy and the rule of law. Norwegian university culture is committed to trusting students as much as possible and only intervening in actually threatening situations.’


Speaking of threats: a Greek professor at the conference talked about his own university having to deal with anti-fascists beating up on people. Geling: ‘In Greece, legislation passed under a radical left-wing government doesn’t permit the police to enter university campuses. This professor was molested once himself because the media had published a statement in which he said that fascists are people who use violence against others. When you hear things like this, you think we don’t have it so bad in the Netherlands.’

A balancing act

In general, Geling thinks that those of us in higher education are dealing effectively with radicalisation and polarisation. ‘We have a good mechanism for consultation, and we involve not only students but also psychologists, community police officers and parents in this issue.’ Geling also thinks that we have been able to maintain a good balance in the Netherlands between debate in the context of academic freedom and the fact that a debate can also contribute to radicalisation and polarisation. ‘This is a balancing act that we’re doing pretty well in the Netherlands.’

A new course?

Even so, Geling sees room for improvement. ‘Certain faculties at The Hague University of Applied Sciences lack the expertise needed to deal with students who are radicalising. And some lecturers are knowledgeable but often lack the courage to speak up. So perhaps a course dedicated to radicalisation and polarisation would be a good idea. We know, for instance, that polarisation is increasing. You can see this in politics with the new political parties like the Forum voor Democratie and Denk, and it’s also going to spread to our school. People are going to be basing their ideas more and more on their own identity.’

Better to vent

Geling is no advocate of the oversensitive British approach that eliminates discussion about certain issues. ‘Another thing you see is that universities in Great Britain are so afraid of damage to their reputation that they don’t attend conferences. I think it’s more important to offer opportunities to hear a range of opinions. And not just because freedom of expression is essential but also because it serves as a way to let off steam: people should be allowed to express their anger. If higher education creates a ‘safe’ environment that excludes radical opinions, it’s not going to prepare students properly for what they will encounter in society.’


All in all, Geling is pleased with the collaboration that institutions of higher education in Europe are seeking on the subject of radicalisation. ‘We may have our cultural differences, and there’s no single approach to everything, but we can learn a lot from each other. What I liked about Norway was that culture of trust. Instead of overregulating everything, it’s a question of getting back what you give. Even the acts of someone like Breivik didn’t undercut this Norwegian culture of trust.