Discrimination by Universities: Help with Dealing with Gender, Race, Disability and LGBT+ Discrimination in Universities

Discrimination against students by universities is never right. Whether it is against disabled students, or because of race, gender or sexuality, universities are legally required to, and should morally, treat everyone equally.

Just because this happens at British universities, it does not mean it is acceptable nor does it mean students and society should accept it, whether directly impacted or not. If you have been a victim of this, it is unfortunate, but it is not your fault. You do not have to accept this or allow it to continue: you have the power to change your situation and you have the power to choose how to react to what is going on.

Life is too short to suffer in silence and your life and your future far too important to allow yourself to be a victim. You can decide how you react to this.

Take a few seconds to help introduce safeguards for British students and make your life and the life of those you know better: Change in Academia.

This advice applies to England. The Equality Act 2010 says education providers such as colleges and universities must not discriminate against their students. If you have been discriminated against by a college or university, you may be able to take action against them under the Act. For example, you can make a complaint or you can make a discrimination claim in court.


Before you take action about discrimination in your university

Before you take action about discrimination, you need to:

  • be reasonably sure that unlawful discrimination has taken place, according to the Equality Act 2010
  • check the time limits for making your claim if you want to take legal action

Think about what you want to achieve

When deciding what action to take about discrimination, you will need to think about what you’re trying to achieve. You will also need to think about how quickly you need to get a result. You may want:

  • the discrimination to stop
  • an apology
  • the school or education provider to look again at a decision they’ve already taken
  • a change in their policy
  • staff training in discrimination issues
  • money for financial losses or compensation - for example, for stress or injury to feelings.

It’s often best to try to resolve your problem informally first. It may stop the problem getting worse and avoid the expense of taking legal action. You should, however, be aware that there are strict time limits for taking legal action against education providers - usually within 6 months of when the act of discrimination happened. It’s therefore best to act as early as possible.

Who should you take action against?

If you’ve been discriminated against by an education provider like a college or university you need to take action against their responsible body. The responsible body is usually the person or body responsible for the management of the education provider. 

You should follow the college’s or university’s own complaints procedure. If your problem  is not resolved you may be able to complain to:

  • the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education for universities and higher education institutions
  • the Education Funding Agency or the Skills Funding Agency for colleges and further education institutions.

Taking court action

If you’ve not been able to resolve your problem in other ways first, you can make a discrimination claim against the responsible body of the college or university. You will generally need to make your claim in the county court within 6 months from the date the discrimination happened.

Human rights and public sector equality duty

Colleges and universities have additional duties to promote equality under the Equality Act. This is called the public sector equality duty. You may be able to use the public sector equality duty to strengthen your discrimination claim. They must also follow the Human Rights Act 1998. This means you may also be able to use human rights arguments to strengthen your discrimination claim or make a separate claim under the Human Rights Act.

From Citizens Advice


Looking after yourself when you have been discriminated against

If your mental health is being affected, try and seek help as early as possible. Many university and colleges offer free counselling for students. Some charities sometimes offer free counselling or a telephone helpline. Charities like Mind or the Samaritans may be able to help you free of charge. Don't suffer alone: there are many people in a similar situation to you, so you are not alone even though you may feel that.


For further Help and Advice on Discrimination in Universities

  • Your Students Union or Students Rep
  • Your local law centre(s): they are free centres where you can receive advice for your claim.
  • Citizens Advice


Training Resources on Mental Health Support in Universities

"Thinking about Unseen Disabilities" talk by Hisham Ziauddeen on how to support disabled people

Useful links