Higher Education provider's guidance FAQs

Advice and Guidance

Who is this page for?

  • Public sector

Which countries is it relevant to?

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Unlawful discrimination is defined in the Act as:

  • Direct discrimination (including discrimination based on perception or association).
  • Combined discrimination.
  • Indirect discrimination.
  • Discrimination arising from disability.
  • Failure to make reasonable adjustments (for disabled people).

Discrimination is explained in more detail in Key concepts.

It is the ‘responsible body’ of a further or higher education institution that is liable for any breaches of the Equality Act. The table in Annex B sets out the responsible body for each type of further and higher education institution.

The responsible body for a further or higher education institution is liable for the actions of its employees and agents of the institution unless it can show that it took ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent the discrimination, harassment or victimisation from taking place. In some circumstances an employee or agent (someone who works for you on your behalf) of the institution may be personally liable for acts of discrimination, harassment or victimisation. This is explained in more detail in Key concepts.

  • Universities and higher education institutions.
  • Further education colleges and institutions.
  • Designated colleges (in Scotland).

Local authorities and education authorities have obligations in relation to further and higher education as well as having obligations as service providers and bodies carrying out public functions. These duties are not covered by this guidance.

Obligations for service providers are explained in separate guidance. See Information for Service Providers.

Private training providers do not have obligations under the education provisions but do have obligations under the service provider provisions which are explained in separate guidance. See Information for Service Providers.

The Act protects students from discrimination and harassment based on ‘protected characteristics’.

The protected characteristics for the further and higher education institution provisions are:

  • Age.
  • Disability.
  • Gender reassignment.
  • Pregnancy and maternity.
  • Race.
  • Religion or belief.
  • Sex.
  • Sexual orientation.

Being married or in a civil partnership is NOT a protected characteristic for the further and higher education institution provisions.

The categories of people covered by the further and higher education institution provisions are:

  • Prospective students (in relation to admissions arrangements).
  • Students at the institution (including those absent or temporarily excluded).
  • Former students (if there is a continuing relationship based on them having been a student at the institution).
  • Disabled people who are not students at the institution but who hold or have applied for qualifications conferred by the institution. 

A person who believes that they have been discriminated against, harassed or victimised by a further or higher education institution can make a claim under the Equality Act.

In England and Wales a claim can be made to a county court and in Scotland to the sheriff court. The procedure for making a claim and the remedies a court can order are explained in detail in Dispute resolution and enforcement.

There are exceptions to enable single-sex institutions to admit only students of one sex and for a small number of designated institutions with a religious ethos to enable them to have admissions criteria which give preference to members of their own religion for courses which are not vocational. There are also exceptions in relation to courses with a genuine occupational requirement.

These exceptions are explained in more detail in Admissions.

Last updated: 19 Feb 2019

Further information

If you think you might have been treated unfairly and want further advice, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service.

Phone: 0808 800 0082

You can email using the contact form on the EASS website.

Also available through the website are BSL interpretation, web chat services and a contact us form.


Opening hours:

9am to 7pm Monday to Friday
10am to 2pm Saturday
closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays

Alternatively, you can visit our advice and guidance page.