Institutional Racism Review

In February 2015, following a complaint by Malia Bouattia during her time as Black Students’ Officer, NUS commissioned an independent review to investigate the allegation that the union is institutionally racist.

The Runnymede Trust have completed their review which can be read here.

Overall conclusion, findings and recommendations

The findings of this independent review into whether institutional racism exists within NUS reflects the lived experiences of some of our staff, officers and volunteers.

No names or identifying materials are included in the final report and the detail of the terms of reference are in the report. 

Following analysis of information provided, the Runnymede Trust have presented their findings in a report which provides an overall conclusion, findings and 25 recommendations that the organisation needs to take forward.

The analysis has shown serious failings and issues for concern in five key areas:

  1. Organisational culture
  2. Communications
  3. Employment Practice
  4. Engagement with Race & Racism
  5. Liberation & the Black Students’ Campaign

The report’s overall conclusion is as follows:

While the evidence reveals considerable shortcomings, failings and naivety in the understanding of race and racism, we are not able to conclude definitively that NUS is institutionally racist according to the definitions set out in the terms of reference. The following points are central to this decision:

  • Caution and distrust pervades, albeit to differing degrees and for different reasons, at all levels of the organisation.  This caution was evident in some of the exchanges during data collection, despite our independence.
  • While we are confident in our assessment of the accounts we collated, we found it difficult in some instances, to trace back to or identify the root of particular events or to establish enough evidence in order to be able to independently assess its veracity. This is not to dismiss or undermine the very valuable and often painful accounts that were shared with us and which we have taken into account during the writing of this report.
  • There were a very small number of individuals whose particular set of experiences and opinion was crucial to our determinations but they refused, as is their choice, or were unable to take part in the review. 
  • We required closer and prolonged scrutiny of organisational practice and policies that was not possible within the agreed timeframe. 

While acknowledging these important points, there remains no doubt in our minds that NUS as an employer has failed to seriously support Black staff, officers and volunteers and has considerable work to do to address the poor understanding and engagement of race and racism amongst white staff and associates. While the keenness of some white respondents to act as allies is to be welcomed and should not be overlooked the tendency, on the part of others, to assume liberal, well-meaning and intent sufficient evidence of commitment to race and racism is, at best, short-sighted. Our findings indicate a gap between the intention of racially just practice and the reality for those racialised as Black and, a lack of understanding of racism in its more subtle or covert forms.

In short, our reservation in naming NUS as institutionally racist in no way detracts from the failings that we have identified within this report.

Immediate actions

Simon Blake, NUS Chief Executive, and Malia Bouattia, NUS President, will be developing an action plan to respond and have announced immediate steps being taken to increase the capacity and understanding around race and racism in NUS, which include:

  • To enhance our existing expertise, we have identified an expert race equality consultant to support us with the development of an action plan for organisational change.
  • The immediate recruitment of a Race Equality Director who will be part of the Executive team.
  • Recruitment of a second Equality, Diversity & Inclusion consultant who has expertise in Faith and Belief work and who will be part of a newly created EDI unit. The two roles will look at all forms of racism including antisemitism and Islamophobia.
  • We will roll out mandatory race equality training to all staff. This has already been delivered to the Executive team.

NUS has put in place a number of ways for staff to access support, seek advice or report issues or concerns. These range from access to counselling, the launch of a new confidential and anonymous whistleblowing helpline as well as a list of people you can seek advice from or report incidents to within the organisation.

All of the above are outlined in our resources available within this page.

Statement from NUS President Malia Bouattia


“As the President of NUS and the person who made the allegation that resulted in this review, based on my own experience as Black Students’ Officer, I want to reaffirm my absolute commitment to challenging all forms of racism in every corner of our society. The serious failings of NUS to respond to race and racism effectively are clear and I will lead the organisation to do everything in its power to address and change this.

"This is not an issue that is limited to NUS. It is nearly 20 years since The MacPherson Report was published, a defining moment for race relations in the UK, confirming institutional racism within the Police and making no less than 70 recommendations, of which one was zero tolerance to racism. Despite this, our society remains entrenched in systemic racism and discrimination. We all have a duty to challenge and remedy this. I am proud to be part of an organisation that has the courage to look within, recognise its failings and do something about it. And I am proud of the many Black staff, officers and volunteers who have shown great resilience, making significant and invaluable contributions to NUS and continuing to work in an environment that at times has been hostile, frustrating, difficult and painful. Your involvement in the review and continued support and efforts have not gone unnoticed and NUS will be better at championing you from this point forward.

"NUS must now take the time to reflect on the findings, work together to create a robust action plan to implement the recommendations and create real positive change. NUS has always been at the forefront of creating a fairer and more accessible society for all, free from prejudice and discrimination. We urge the student movement and those we work with to unite with us and support us to embed this vital change.”

Malia Bouattia, NUS President