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Want to stay on the right side of the law? We support businesses and public authorities and help them to promote good practice.

Further & higher education providers

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:


  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • race
  • religious belief and political opinion
  • age
  • disability

(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:


  • in applications
  • 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
  • victimization
  • disability-related discrimination
  • failure to comply with a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled students
  • harassment and
  • victimisation



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.

Useful publications

Time limits

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.



What is good practice in further and higher education?

Good practice is a term used to describe a combination of specific measures that are taken to overcome or minimise barriers to students who may suffer a disadvantage because of a personal characteristic such as their age, sex, sexual orientation, race or disability, religious belief or political opinion. It includes creating an environment in which students are able to achieve their potential without being disadvantaged because of this personal characteristic.

Good practice extends beyond the mere letter of the law to include students who are disadvantaged because they are transgender.

Examples of good practice:

An outreach programme for Travellers

You run a literacy course on a Traveller site to encourage take up and build trust.

Gay role models for young people

An English lecturer teaching a play by Oscar Wilde makes her students aware of the fact that the playwright was gay.

An IT lecturer discusses the work of computer programmer Eric Allman who developed sendmail in the late 1970s early 1980s. He makes his students aware of the fact that Allman is openly gay.


Language classes for economic migrants

You run English classes for people who do not have English as a first language and make contact with influential people within those communities to encourage take up.

Useful links



In Northern Ireland, protection from discrimination in Colleges is provided in the following legislation:

(this link is to the revised version of the statute that incorporates all of the many amendments that were made over the years up to and including 2008)


Amending laws:


Main law for education:


Amending/supplementary laws:


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