The UK government is to suspend all engagement with the National Union of Students (NUS) amid long-standing concerns about antisemitism in the body.
Universities minister Michelle Donelan has ordered the NUS to be removed from all the Department for Education (DfE) departmental groups and replaced with alternative student representation.
She has requested the DfE’s arm’s-length bodies, such as the Office for Students, to take similar action and said that the NUS would receive no government funding.
Last month the union announced that it was opening itself up to an independent investigation following a wave of complaints by Jewish students.
However, the DfE said these must lead to “substantive action” and the decision to disengage from the NUS will be kept under review “as the organisation demonstrates it has suitably addressed these issues.”
Donelan said: “I am horrified by the thought of Jewish students feeling ostracised by an organisation which should be a voice for their community and an advocate of equality for all students.
“Although this was a decision that the department did not take lightly, we have been clear that antisemitism must be stamped out of the sector and are treating these allegations with the utmost seriousness.”
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said he was “seriously concerned” at the number of reports of alleged antisemitism linked to the NUS.
“Jewish students need to have confidence that this is a body that represents them, and we need to be sure that the student bodies that we engage with are speaking fairly for all students, which is why we are disengaging with the NUS until the issues have been addressed,” he said.
“From the NUS’s initial response to our concerns, I am confident that they are keen to take action and welcome further updates from them. Antisemitism has no place in our society and we will stamp it out, wherever it occurs.”
In response, the NUS said it was “disappointed” that the government had announced the move through a press release rather than seeking to engage with it directly.
Following the launch of its investigation, the NUS said it would be appointing a QC, in consultation with the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), next week to conduct the inquiry.
“We have sought to undertake the investigation in a serious and proper way, and are working in collaboration with UJS at every step of the way,” a spokesman said.
“Once the QC has been appointed we will be able to update on the process and timeline. We look forward to working with the government constructively on this matter.”
In its press notice, the DfE cited a number of incidents that had prompted it to take action, including what it said was the NUS’s “unacceptable response” to concerns about an invitation to the rapper Lowkey to its 2022 conference.
It noted that the rapper had a history of making comments that have “widely been seen as antisemitic.”
NUS president Larissa Kennedy was alleged to have suggested that Jewish students segregate themselves into a quiet area designed for neurodivergent students so they would not have to hear him which, the DfE said, was “utterly unacceptable.”
It said it was also “deeply concerned” about the social media postings by the NUS president-elect, Shaima Dallali, including a tweet in support of Hamas, a proscribed terrorist organisation.
The DfE noted that it was not the first time the NUS had been caught up in controversies over alleged antisemitism, including an inquiry in 2005.
In 2017 a number of student unions disaffiliated from the NUS following the election of Malia Bouattia—who had described Birmingham University as “something of an outpost of Zionism”— as its president.