The NUS has faced criticism after releasing a student survey on religion on Thursday which excluded Judaism as an option. The survey was released as part of efforts by the confederation of students’ unions to further understanding of the experiences Muslim students have in higher education.
In the online questionnaire, students were asked “what is your religion, faith or belief?” The possible options given were: “Buddhist”, “Christian (including Catholic, Church of England, Church of Scotland, Protestant and all other Christian denominations)”, “Hindu”, “Muslim”, “Sikh”, “Spiritual”, “Agnostic”, “Any other religion or belief”, “None”, and “Prefer not to say.”
Responding to a tweet of a screenshot of the survey, President of the NUS, Shakira Martin, tweeted on Thursday that she is “dealing with this and will be having words with people in NUS first thing in the morning” in an effort to make sure “this doesn’t happen again.” Martin also added that this was “totally unacceptable.”
This is not the first time Judaism has been left off a survey on religion by the NUS. Last year the same question was posed with no option provided for students to pick Jewish. Responding to this, the NUS tweeted: “We’re really sorry about this and will get it rectified ASAP.” Martin, at the time the incoming NUS President, tweeted: “I’ll get it sorted out immediately.”
NUS issued the following statement: “This is totally unacceptable and we apologise for the omission of Judaism from the survey. We have amended the question and are taking steps internally to ensure that this does not happen again. NUS is a place for all students and we want Jewish students to feel able to participate and engage with all of our structures. We understand as a collective movement that we must enable and ensure Jewish students feel welcome in our spaces and our work.”
In a report released last year by NUS Vice-President for Society and Citizenship Robbie Young on the experiences of Jewish students and their views of the NUS and other university student unions, it was found that many Jewish students “do not feel their institution understands their needs.”
In 2016, Martin’s predecessor as NUS President, Malia Bouattia, was accused of anti-Semitism after it emerged that she had referred to the University of Birmingham as “something of a Zionist outpost” and referred to “Zionist-led media outlets.”
Martin ran against incumbent Bouattia for the Presidency in April 2017, pledging “unity” and to put the organisation “back into the hands of its membership.” Martin has made efforts to improve relations between the NUS and Jewish students, holding talks in August 2017 with the campaign manager of the Union of Jewish Students, Liron Velleman.