THE head of a new research centre into British Muslims has hit out at the Government's request that universities root out extremists.
Last week Education Secretary Ruth Kelly told universities they should report suspicious students in the wake of the London suicide bombings.
But Dr Sophie Gilliat-Ray, an expert on Islam in Britain, said it was not academics' duty to "police" students.
The Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK will be opened today at Cardiff University by Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens.
The former pop singer, chairman of the Islamia Schools Trust which runs Muslim schools, was refused entry to the US by security officials last September.
Dr Gilliat-Ray, the centre's director, told the Western Mail, "This is an academic centre. What goes on in student life is a matter for the student union and the university authorities. As academic staff we are not the policemen of the university.
"I think it is something we have to engage with and try and understand. I think it would be worrying if extremist elements were driven underground. I think it's much better if their views, however much we don't like them, are out in the open and we start to engage with them."
The centre will specialise in post-graduate teaching and research into the history of sociology of Muslims in Britain, not Islamic theology or the study of the Koran.
Dr Gilliat-Ray said Cardiff had particular expertise in the field. The city also has one of the oldest Muslim communities in Britain. The first UK mosque was established there in 1860.
"Because of its history as a maritime port there were a lot of Muslim seafarers here in the 1860s," she said. "That actually almost makes Cardiff unique.
"The formation of the centre provides a focus for work that's already going on and this centre will help to consolidate Cardiff's reputation as a postgraduate centre for academic learning and teaching in Britain."
A report published this week claims universities are the most likely recruiting ground for Islamic extremists in the UK.
Extreme groups - such as Islamic Jihadists, the BNP and animal rights activists - target campuses to enlist students, it says.
Professor Anthony Glees, director of the Brunel Centre of Intelligence and Security Services in London, listed Swansea University among 30 institutions where extremists have operated. The claim was described as "alarming and irresponsible" by Swansea, who said Prof Glees had never made contact with the university.
Dr Gilliat-Ray said people should not worry about Cardiff's centre attracting radical Muslims.
"They [students] already have to have a good degree in order to study here. We want people with a 2.1 or above and we interview everyone who comes," she said.
The centre, which begins teaching in October, would promote good community relations and counter negative media reports about Muslims, she said.
"For every negative story there is about radical clerics, then we can give you four very good stories," she said.
"We have a strong and positive relationship with the local Muslim community, and members of the community form part of our advisory committee."
Mohammed Evans, of Cardiff County Council's Ethnic Minority Achievement Service, said, "The Centre is an accessible, vibrant, and inclusive hub of learning about Islam in Britain, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike."
The study of Islam in Britain is a rapidly growing academic field. The university said there was an acknowledged need for more scholars and researchers with in-depth knowledge of the recent history of Muslims in Britain.