What does the Act say?

Advice and Guidance

Which countries is it relevant to?

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What does the Act say about higher education admissions?

The Act says you must not discriminate against or victimise a person:

  • in the arrangements you make for deciding who is offered admission as a student 
  • in relation to the terms on which you offer to admit the person as a student 
  • by not admitting the person as a student.

You must not harass a person who has applied for admission as a student.

Designated institutions with a religious ethos

An institution which has been designated as one with a religious ethos can admit students that share its religion or belief over those that do not, but only for the purpose of preserving its religious ethos and only in relation to admissions to courses which do not constitute vocational training. This exception only applies to a very small number of Catholic sixth form colleges in England and Wales.

Genuine occupational requirements

There are exceptions under the Act in respect of certain jobs whereby they can be lawfully restricted to people of a certain race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or age, or who are not transsexual or not married/in a civil partnership (see Employment Guidance). You can treat someone differently as a result of their protected characteristic by refusing to admit them to courses which train people only for such jobs.

For example:

A Catholic theological college can refuse to admit women to a course which is only designed to prepare candidates for the Catholic priesthood as women cannot become Catholic priests. However, a Church of England college could not confine training for the priesthood to men since women may also become Anglican priests.

Single-sex institutions

As a single-sex institution you are permitted to admit students of only one sex and this would not constitute sex discrimination. This applies if you are a single-sex institution that admits students of the opposite sex on an exceptional basis or in comparatively small numbers and only to particular courses or classes. There are special transitional provisions if you are a single-sex institution that is turning co-educational.

For example:

A women’s college which admits only female students is not discriminating unlawfully against men. If the college admits a small number of men to make up the numbers on the Oriental languages course, it will still be regarded as a single-sex college and is not discriminating by refusing to admit men to other courses.

These exceptions only apply to admissions and do not apply to the provision of education, or access to any benefit, facility or service or to exclusions.

For example:

A men’s college which admits daughters of college staff does not allow the female students to use the college sports centre. This would be unlawful sex discrimination.

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.


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Alternatively, you can visit our advice and guidance page.