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Equality and diversity in access agreements

Why do I have to include equality and diversity in our access agreement?

OFFA does not regulate whether you meet your legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010, but the Act’s public sector equality duty requires you to take equality issues into account when designing policies (including internal policies) and services, and to review such issues regularly.

Therefore, when designing new access agreements or amending an existing agreement, you will need to demonstrate how you have taken equality issues into account. This should include any evidence you have on the possible equality implications of any proposed changes, and what steps you will take to remove or minimise any adverse effects.

OFFA does not give legal advice. If you are unsure whether you are meeting your legal obligations under the Equality Act, you should seek your own legal advice, or contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

How should I embed equality and diversity into our agreement?

Under the Equality Act 2010, you must have due regard to the need to:

The protected characteristics recognised by the Act are:

People who share protected characteristics can be under-represented in overall numbers, more likely to leave before finishing their course, less likely to achieve the highest qualification classifications and less likely to be employed after graduation than those who do not.

Many universities and colleges already recognise some of these issues for protected characteristic groups within their widening participation strategy but often do not link this to their work to meet the requirements of the Equality Act. As noted in the Action on Access briefing Social mobility through higher education: aligning widening participation and equality, most higher education institutions target disabled and black and minority ethnic (BME) students as part of their widening participation strategy but of these, only half make an explicit link between this and their institutional equality and diversity strategy.

Many opportunities for aligning your equality and widening participation strategies exist. For example, BME and disabled people are statistically over-represented within lower socio-economic groups and low participation neighbourhoods. Given that activities targeted at those from lower socio-economic groups and low participation neighbourhoods count towards your access agreement spend, this may provide an opportunity for you to link your widening participation and equality strategies, meeting both your equality objectives and access agreement targets.

Do I have to include targets relating to equality and diversity?

We encourage you to consider including targets on improving equality and diversity in your access agreement. You will have published equality and diversity data in January 2012 to comply with the Equality Act 2010, and this could be used to help set targets along with national benchmarking data, such as that contained in the Equality Challenge Unit’s (ECU) Equality in Higher Education: Statistical Report 2011. When setting equality targets, you may wish to consider the following:

Further guidance and resources on equality and diversity

The Action on Access briefings Social mobility through higher education: aligning widening participation and equality and Mainstreaming widening participation and equality in institutions may be useful.

To help you identify relevant priorities for your institution, you may wish to compare the internal equalities data you collect with sector-wide trends. There are also other data sources which may be of use such as:

If you need further help developing priorities and activities, you may wish to contact an external organisation such as the Equality Challenge Unit which is funded by the higher education sector’s representative bodies and UK funding bodies to advise universities and colleges on equality issues. You may count any expenditure invested in such services under your access agreement.

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