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Equality & Diversity at Heriot-Watt University

Students - What does the Equality Act mean for you?

In Scotland, the Regulations that underpin the Equality Act are still in draft from. The information below is based on the Act itself – but will be updated in due course following the publication of the Scottish Regulations.

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation of:

  • Prospective students (in relation to admissions arrangements)
  • University Students (including those absent or temporarily excluded)
  • Former University students.

The University is covered by the Act across the range of services we provide, from learning and teaching activities to careers advice and training, counselling, the Disability support, finance, scholarships and bursaries, health, international students’ services, language learning, religious/belief facilities and welfare services.
The main provisions of the Equality Act are:

  • The introduction of the concept of Protected Characteristics as the basis of protection from unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation. The relevant protected characteristics in relation to higher education provision are Race, Disability, Sex, Gender Reassignment, Age, Sexual Orientation, Religion or Belief and Pregnancy and Maternity
  • Reasonable Adjustments—the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people has been amended. It now includes situations where a disabled individual experiences a ‘substantial disadvantage’ in working, studying or using a service. The previous duty applied only in situations where it was ‘impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to work, study or use a service’
  • Protection from indirect discrimination has been extended to include the protected groups of disability and transgender
  • Protection of discrimination arising from disability
  • Protection from discrimination because of pregnancy and maternity. This refers to the period of pregnancy and the 26 weeks after birth. This means the University cannot refuse an applicant entry nor ask that a student leave a course because she is pregnant. In addition, a student must not be penalised if she misses an exam or essay/coursework deadline because of pregnancy or maternity
  • Disability—the definition of disability has been extended to cover people who have had disabilities in the past where it is likely that the disability will recur.
  • The definition of Gender Reassignment has been amended to include students who have started or completed a process to change their sex even if they are not under medical supervision
  • Protection from Associative discrimination now covers the protected groups of Age, Disability, Race, Sex, Gender Reassignment, Sexual Orientation, Religion or Belief. Colleagues need to ensure that protection for example of carers of children, disabled dependents or the elderly, is incorporated into existing practices and procedures
  • Protection from Perceptive discrimination now applies to the protected groups of Age, Disability, Race, Sex, Gender Reassignment, Sexual Orientation, Religion or Belief
  • Breastfeeding is now explicitly protected. A woman who is breastfeeding is now explicitly protected from unfavourable treatment within a period of 26 weeks from when she has given birth. Outside of this 26-week period, a breastfeeding woman may be protected by sex discrimination provisions
  • Protection from Third Party Harassment has been extended to cover the protected groups of Race, Disability, Sexual Orientation, Gender Reassignment, Religion or Belief, Age and Sex. This makes the University potentially liable for the harassment of its employees by third parties, such as maintenance contractors or Students, unless reasonable steps have been taken to prevent the third party from doing so
  • The Public Equality Duties will be extended in April 2011 to cover the protected groups of Age, Disability, Gender Reassignment, Race, Religion or Belief, Sex, Sexual Orientation, and Pregnancy and Maternity.

Curriculum Content
The Equality Act 2010 does not affect the content of the curriculum. This means that the University is not restricted in the range of issues, ideas and materials used or covered in course syllabi. The University's academic freedom to expose students to a range of thoughts and ideas, however controversial, remains unaffected even if the content of the curriculum causes offence to students with certain protected characteristics. However, it will remain unlawful to deliver a course in ways that result in harassment or subjects students to discrimination or other detriment.
Further information can be found on the Equality and Human Rights Website by clicking here



Equality and Diversity Advisor:
Sharan Virdee
Tel: 0131 451 3980

Disability Adviser:
Lorraine Vallance
Tel: 0131-451-3509

Human Resources click here for contacts




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Last Updated:19 March 2014 Text Only Version © Copyright Heriot-Watt University, Disclaimer