Public Sector Equality Duty: enhancing equality in education in Scotland

Published: 05 Mar 2020

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have today, 5 March 2020, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which underlines their shared aspirations to strengthen and reinforce compliance with Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) in colleges and universities.

Through this MoU we, along with the SFC, will support Scotland’s colleges and universities to meet the requirements and achieve the aspirations of the Public Sector Equality Duties and take action to tackle the most persistent inequalities in our society.

Colleges and universities are required by the Equality Act 2010 to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation; to advance equality of opportunity; and to foster good relations when they are carrying out their public functions. 

This MoU, with its focus on working in partnership with a sector body to strengthen compliance with PSED to achieve substantive equality, is the first of its kind for us. 

The overarching aim is to improve outcomes for people working or studying at Scotland’s colleges and universities who are experiencing unlawful discrimination and inequality.

This will be done by:

  • identifying and developing a shared ownership and understanding of the most significant and persistent inequalities in the sector
  • universities and colleges setting SMART national equality outcomes
  • building confidence and clarity to identify the action required to achieve these outcomes
  • ensuring appropriate scrutiny and measurement of progress
  • evaluating actions and sharing lessons learned

The MoU is supported by a Joint Action Plan that sets out the activities to tackle the most pressing inequalities and guidance on how to support the sector in tracking the effectiveness and impact of these efforts.

Commenting on the MoU, SFC Chief Executive, Karen Watt said:

'Equality, diversity and inclusion are central to SFC’s mission and values. We know that participation rates and the success of students studying at our colleges and universities differ for students who share different protected characteristics. We want to see this change so that students achieve the same outcomes whatever their personal circumstances. 

'We are therefore delighted to be working in partnership with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to ensure that Scotland’s colleges and universities are doing everything they can to contribute to a more equal society by embedding equality and diversity across all their functions, supporting participation, tackling prejudice and placing good relations at the heart of everything they do.'

Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

'Scotland’s colleges and universities are spaces where students grow as individuals, where they develop the values that will prepare them to become good citizens and thoughtful people.

'It is positive to see SFC embracing its role of overseeing the college and university sectors and working with us to set high standards.

'Today’s agreement represents an exciting statement of intent. It’s a model we hope to see considered by other organisations seeking to lead the way on this critical issue.'

Rebecca Hilsenrath (left) and Karen Watt (right) sign the memorandum of understanding

Notes to editors

For further information please contact:

  • Lynne Raeside, Head of External Affairs, Scottish Funding Council, phone 0131 313 6526 or email:
  • Vonnie Sandlan, Communications and Public Affairs Manager, Equality and Human Rights Commission, phone 0141 228 5914 or email:

About the Scottish Funding Council

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) is helping to make Scotland the best place in the world to educate, to research and to innovate. Investing around £1.8 billion of public money each year, SFC’s funding enables Scotland’s colleges and universities to provide life-changing opportunities for over half a million people and to help create a prosperous future economy. For further information see the SFC website.

About the Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the National Equality Body (NEB) for Scotland, England and Wales. We work to eliminate discrimination and promote equality across the nine protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010. 

Press contact details

For more press information contact the Commission's media office on:

0161 829 8102