Colleges were urged to use advice drawn up by a Birmingham academic to fight extremism on campuses.
Skills Secretary John Denham said further education colleges should lead the fight against Muslim extremists and challenge student attitudes, as he launched a new government report aimed at academics.
It was based partly on the work of Lynn Davies, of the School of Education at Birmingham University, an expert on the role of education in resolving conflict who has advised governments in Egypt, Bosnia and Sri Lanka.
Her book, Educating Against Extremism, was published last year. The report urged colleges to debate issues surrounding terrorism to prevent students being drawn to violent extremism.
Lessons should be used to challenge extremist views and support should be given to teachers to make them more confident in discussing these controversial issues, the paper said.
It highlighted the threat to the UK from groups influenced by al Qaida, although it also warned that threats still remain from dissident Irish republican groups, as well as some racist and fascist organisations.
The advice says colleges should be aware of any “signs or behaviours” that could give cause for concern, including graffiti symbols, writing or artwork that promote extremist messages, students accessing extremist material online, parental reports of changes in a students behaviour, friendships or actions, or students voicing opinions based on extremist ideas.
Colleges must then decide whether to deal with the issue internally or raise it with an outside body, such as the police, the guidance said. Some academics have raised concern about this, saying colleges are being asked to spy on students.
It also urges colleges to “break down segregation” between students by encouraging pupils from different faiths or backgrounds to interact.