Disabled students at university: discussion paper

Independent paper from the Commissioner for Fair Access considers representation, entrant trends, retention and degree outcomes for disabled students by disability group.

Annex A - Key legislation and guidance on disabled students


HEIs are required to avoid discrimination in relation to a person's right to education (including access to education) under the Human Rights Act 1998.

Disability is listed as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010. Scottish HEIs are listed as public authorities in the Act and are thus required to fulfil the requirements of the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). The PSED consists of general and specific duties. The general duties require HEIs to have due regard to the need to:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act;
  • advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;
  • foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.

The specific duties of the PSED aim to help HEIs better meet the general duty. The general duty and the specific duties must be met. Scottish HEIs are subject to Scottish specific duties, including, but not limited to:

  • report on progress on mainstreaming the general duty into all functions every two years;
  • publish and deliver a set of equality outcomes that cover all protected characteristics every four years;
  • assess the impact of new and revised policies and practices against the needs of the general duty on an ongoing basis.

HEIs are also required to meet reasonable adjustments for disabled persons under the Equality Act 2010. The three requirements of the duty are in relation to: provision, criteria or practice; physical features; auxiliary aids. In relation to each requirement, the relevant matters are: deciding who is offered admission as a student; provision of education; access to a benefit, facility or service; deciding on whom a qualification is conferred; a qualification that [the institution] confers. Moreover, all universities in Scotland are required to publish a British Sign Language (BSL) plan for the purposes of the BSL Scotland Act 2015.


In addition to the legislative context, universities must demonstrate what they aim to deliver in return for public investment each year from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC). Each university is required to set a target in their Outcome Agreements relating to both the intake and the retention of disabled students. Moreover, the 2018-19 to 2020-21 guidance required institutions to "include an increased and enhanced commitment to focus on the intake and retention of learners across all the protected characteristics including disability". The 2019-20 to 2021-22 guidance will also require an institution-wide mental health strategy and a commitment to develop a Student Mental Health Agreement with Think Positive, NUS Scotland's student mental health project.


Email: Anna Green

Back to top