The government has published a consultation on behalf of the new Office for Students (OfS) regarding the regulation of the higher education sector. It proposes that, in its regulatory approach, the OfS will look to ensure that all students, from all backgrounds can access, succeed in, and progress from higher education
Higher Education (HE) providers are autonomous organisations, independent from Government, and they already have responsibilities to ensure that they provide a safe, inclusive environment, including legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010 (the Act) to ensure that students do not face discrimination.
The OfS, like some HE providers, will also have obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty in part 11 of the Act. This includes a requirement that the OfS, when exercising its functions, has due regard to the need to: eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and any other unlawful conduct in the Act, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations in relation to protected characteristics.
In addition, in September 2015 the government asked Universities UK (UUK) to set up a Harassment Taskforce, composed of university leaders, student representatives and academic experts, to consider what more can be done to address harassment and hate crime on campus. The taskforce published its report, ‘Changing the Culture’, in October 2016, which sets out that universities should embed a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and hate crime. This includes hate crime or harassment on the basis of religion or belief, such as antisemitism and Islamophobia. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is currently working with UUK to test the sector’s response to the Taskforce’s recommendations and the results of this will be published early in 2018.