How do I avoid discriminating in my admission arrangements?

Advice and Guidance

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Avoiding discrimination

Everything your institution does in relation to deciding who is admitted to the institution must be non-discriminatory. This covers everything from course design and setting admission requirements to the information you provide about the institution and the course and the application and admissions process.  

Marketing the course and admissions information

How and where you market your institution and courses will have an impact on the type of students you attract. In any marketing material you use you should avoid discriminatory messages and stereotypical images which might result in people with particular protected characteristics believing that their application would not be welcome.

For example:

A further education college prospectus contains a number of images of students at the college. All the images are of young people and this has the effect of dissuading an older applicant from applying. This may result in unlawful indirect discrimination on the grounds of age.

Marketing material for a plumbing course only features photographs of white men. A female applicant is put off applying from the course as she doesn’t believe her application will be accepted. This may be unlawful indirect sex discrimination and is an example of gender stereotyping.

All admissions information and application forms should be available in accessible formats to ensure that you comply with your reasonable adjustments duty to disabled people.

For example:

A person with learning difficulties wishes to apply for a short course at a further education (FE) college. He orders the college prospectus but finds it very difficult to understand so contacts the college to see if they have an Easy Read version or if someone could talk him through the course options. He is told that the prospectus is only available in one format and that while he can talk to course tutors once he has decided which course he wants to apply for there is no one who can talk to him about the range of different courses available. This is likely to be an unlawful failure to make a reasonable adjustment. 

The extended positive action provisions of the Act allow you to advertise that you welcome applications from all groups and particularly target groups that you think are under-represented on a particular course. They also allow you, in certain circumstances, to run courses for people with specific protected characteristics.

You can use positive action measures to alleviate disadvantage experienced by people sharing a protected characteristic, reduce their under-representation in relation to particular activities or meet their particular needs.

You can lawfully advertise courses as open to disabled people only as it is not unlawful to treat disabled people more favourably than non-disabled people.

Many institutions will run a variety of events to attract applicants such as recruitments fairs, open days, mentoring schemes with local schools, campus tours, taster courses and summer schools. Such events should not exclude people with particular characteristics by, for example, arranging them at times which coincide with a religious holiday which might prevent people from a certain religion from attending and could result in unlawful indirect discrimination unless it could be shown to be a proportionate way of meeting a legitimate aim.

For Example:

A large university arranges all its open days on Saturdays. The practice of holding all open days on a Saturday instead of on a variety of different days places practising Jews at a disadvantage and therefore could lead to a successful complaint of unlawful indirect religion or belief discrimination.

However, a smaller institution running only a single event, for example, might find after consideration that a Saturday was the only day which was suitable for the great majority of potential applicants, and was therefore objectively justified.

The application process is the means by which people access admission to your institution and therefore it is vital that the process itself does not discriminate against applicants.

If you use assessment methods such as interviews and written tests these should be applied to all applicants and not just those with particular protected characteristics.

For Example:

A college asks all disabled applicants to undergo a medical check before offering them a place on health-related courses. Non-disabled applicants are not required to undergo a medical check. This would be unlawful direct disability discrimination.

A university interviews all women who apply for a degree in engineering to try to ascertain if they are serious about a career in engineering. Men who apply for the engineering degree are not interviewed. This would be unlawful direct sex discrimination.

You need to make sure you make reasonable adjustments to the application process and any assessment within that process for disabled people.

For Example:

An applicant with multiple sclerosis is invited to an assessment day for a university course. She contacts the university and explains that her disability means that she gets tired very quickly and asks if she can have rest breaks between the different stages of the day or have her assessment spread over several days. The university replies that she must be assessed in exactly the same circumstances as all other applicants and makes no adjustments for her. This is likely to be an unlawful failure to make reasonable adjustments.

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.

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Alternatively, you can visit our advice and guidance page.