Equality Law for further & higher education
Education is fundamental to equality of opportunity - as a preparation for life, as a powerful influence on access to and advancement in employment and in giving young people the skills to resist the sectarianism and racism that exists in society.
Further and higher education institutions in Northern Ireland have a responsibility not to discriminate against students on the grounds of:
- sexual orientation
- religious belief and political opinion
(The law does not apply to gender reassignment in further and higher education)
The law applies to regional colleges, universities, teacher training and agricultural colleges (it does not mean vocational training providers).
How are students in college/university protected against discrimination?
It is unlawful for you to discriminate on one of the protected grounds listed above:
admission to the college or university
in the education or associated services (add link)
in benefits, facilities or services
by excluding a student; or
treating a student unfairly in any other way.
However, there are limited circumstances when discrimination is allowed:
in direct and indirect discrimination if you can demonstrate that your action is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim then the treatment will be justified.
with genuine occupational requirements (GOR) belonging to a particular group, for example, women only football teams; or men only swimming teams.
Is all discrimination the same?
No. There are different types of discrimination, and it doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful.
The main forms are:
- direct discrimination
- indirect discrimination
- disability-related discrimination
- failure to comply with a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled students
- harassment and
Read more about the different types of discrimination>
When is a college/university liable for the actions of its employees?
As an employer you are liable for the actions of your employees that are carried out in the course of their employment whether the act was done with or without your knowledge or approval. This is often referred to as “vicarious liability”. Thus you would be liable for harassment or other discriminatory acts by teaching staff, care takers, administrative support staff, etc.
Complaints about discrimination on grounds of sex, sexual orientation, race, religious belief and political opinion, age and disability in colleges or universities must be made to the County Court within 6 months of the date the discrimination took place.