How do I avoid discriminating in relation to admission terms?

Advice and Guidance

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Terms of admission should not discriminate against a person with a protected characteristic. Terms which indirectly discriminate against people with a protected characteristic or in the case of a disabled applicant, result in discrimination arising from disability, will be unlawful unless you can show they are a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

For example:

A college only offers scholarships for students who excel at rugby. This is likely to indirectly discriminate on grounds of sex and race as it is more likely that white male applicants will receive the scholarship than any other category of student. 

The Equality Act provisions do not prevent you from charging higher tuition fees for certain types of international students if this is permitted by other legislation. International students may also be subject to separate immigration requirements. Detailed information can be found at the website of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (

Although the Act does not prevent you from setting admission requirements, you should ensure that the criteria you use, and the way you apply them, do not discriminate.

Criteria which exclude people with a particular protected characteristic will result in direct discrimination. Direct discrimination is always unlawful, except in limited circumstances in relation to age where it can be justified if there is a genuine reason for having concerns about the age of people on a course and imposing a particular age requirement is appropriate and necessary as a result.

For Example: 

A university refuses admission to a 16-year-old applicant for a teaching course on the grounds that he would be unable to undertake the teaching practice elements of the course. This would be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim and therefore lawful age discrimination.

Reviewing your admissions requirements regularly will help you to ensure that they do not make it more difficult for people with a particular protected characteristic to be admitted as this could lead to indirect discrimination. Using criteria which can be tested objectively will also help you to avoid discriminating.

For Example:

A Catholic college tells an applicant that while being gay will not result in him not being admitted, he must not tell other students that he is gay. This would be unlawful discrimination because of sexual orientation.

You should ensure that disabled people are not discriminated against because of something arising as a consequence of their disability, unless you can show it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Stating that you require an applicant to have a certain medical or health-related characteristic in order to be admitted to a course might result in disability discrimination.

You will need to have arrangements in place to deal with the reasonable adjustment needs of disabled applicants and you may need to make reasonable adjustments to enable disabled applicants to demonstrate their ability to meet the course requirements.

Some institutions choose to accept students with learning difficulties onto courses even though they may not be able to complete the whole course or achieve the qualification. This is good practice and increases participation. 

For Example:

A student with Down’s syndrome is accepted onto a BTEC Higher National performing arts course on the understanding that he will only be assessed for part of the qualification and will not receive the qualification. (Example provided by ALLFIE.) 

Some of the courses that you run may be validated by external bodies such as trade organisations and qualifications bodies such as the General Medical Council or the British Floristry Association. These organisations may set entry requirements for these courses and while you may not be able to control the entry requirements, you should ensure that they are not applied in a discriminatory way. It is good practice to work with such bodies to try to ensure that any entry requirements do not unlawfully discriminate against any applicants and to find ways to assess applicants against any entry requirements in a way that does not discriminate and allows for any necessary reasonable adjustments to be made for disabled applicants.

Qualifications bodies and trade organisations have obligations under the Equality Act when awarding qualifications. These obligations are explained in the Employment Guidance.  See Information for Employers

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
Textphone: 0808 800 0084

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

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Alternatively, you can visit our advice and guidance page.