Joint call for Scotland’s colleges and universities to address inequalities

Published: 18 January 2023

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have come together to identify the most persistent inequalities in Scotland’s colleges and universities and pave the way for their removal.

The joint report, published today, is the first time national equality outcomes have been agreed in partnership between a sector body and Britain’s equality regulator.

Equality outcomes are results that public bodies should aim to achieve to address inequality and discrimination and improve people’s life chances. The outcomes set out in this report target improvements to the retention, representation and success of students and staff with a range of protected characteristics, as well as the procedures, services and support that colleges and universities should offer them to address any discrimination or disadvantage.  

SFC and the EHRC will support Scotland’s colleges and universities to meet their responsibilities under the Public Sector Equality Duty, which provides the legal framework to make these changes happen.

In developing national equality outcomes for tertiary education, the partners involved equality experts from colleges and universities and sought advice from charities and people with real-life experience of the effects of inequality.

Both SFC and the EHRC are keen to recognise the work already being done by colleges and universities, as well as some student associations. Today’s report will develop and support a collective response to eliminating inequalities in the sector, while helping to foster good relations and identify chances to advance equality of opportunity.

Marcial Boo, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“Too many people still face discrimination and barriers to opportunity in higher and further education settings, whether they are students or staff.

“By acting together to address the most persistent inequalities in Scotland’s colleges and universities, we can make a lasting positive difference to people’s lives and help build a fairer country.

“This is the first time that a set of national equality outcomes have been agreed anywhere in Britain. As Britain’s authoritative equality regulator, we encourage public bodies in other sectors to look at and mirror this approach to strengthen their own compliance with the Public Sector Equality Duty.”

Karen Watt, Chief Executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: 

“Equality, diversity and inclusion are central to SFC’s mission and values. We know that participation and success rates for students studying at college or university differ for students who share different protected characteristics.

“We will work with the sector and the EHRC to address persistent inequalities. The joint report we are publishing today incorporates the views of experts in tertiary education and beyond and sets out the hardest barriers to equality we are seeking to overcome, and what students should expect in terms of fairer opportunities and outcomes for the future.” 

Khadija Mohammed, Senior Lecturer in Education at The University of The West of Scotland and Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, said:

“I welcome this report from SFC and the EHRC.

“In Scotland, we asked our vice-chancellors, university leaders and governing bodies to demonstrate leadership and accountability for eliminating racism, consider how race is enacted in their institutions, and focus on addressing it as a strategic priority.

“The development of national equality outcomes will seek to reinforce this landmark commitment to removing racism. In combination with outcomes targeting the inequalities experienced across a range of protected characteristics, it is testament to the shared agency and leadership we hoped to achieve across the sector.”

The next phase of the joint work will include agreeing a national measurement framework to help institutions report on progress. Over the next three years SFC will oversee delivery of the equality outcomes across Scotland, supporting their implementation and monitoring progress.

Read the joint report:

Tackling Persistent Inequalities Together [external website - Scottish Funding Council]

Notes to Editors:

  • The National Equality Outcomes published today set nationally agreed targets to address inequality across a range of protected characteristics, including age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion of belief, sex and sexual orientation.


  1. The retention outcomes for university students aged 25 and over will improve.
  2. The success rates for college students aged under 19 will improve. 


  1. The success and retention rates of college and university students who declare a mental health condition will improve. 
  2. Disabled students report feeling satisfied with the overall support and reasonable adjustments received, including from teaching staff, while on their course.
  3. Disabled staff and students report feeling safe in the tertiary system.
  4. Where representation is not proportionate to the relevant population, increase the representation of disabled staff in the workforce and on college Boards and university Courts.

Gender reassignment

  1. Trans staff and students report feeling safe to be themselves in the tertiary system.


  1. Staff and students feel supported and safe and are confident that complaints of harassment or bias on the grounds of race will be dealt with appropriately because complaints procedures are fit for purpose and offer effective redress.
  2. Institutions should also have regard to attainment levels by racial group and ensure that their curriculum is diverse and anti-racist.
  3. Where representation is not proportionate to the relevant population, increase the racial diversity of Court members and address any racial diversity issues in college Boards.
  4. Where representation is not proportionate to the relevant population, increase the racial diversity of teaching and non-teaching college staff to align with student representation in the sector.

Religion or belief

  1. Students and staff report that they have confidence in institutional report and support mechanisms because they are fit for purpose.


  1. Staff and students know how to access support about violence, harassment and abuse, report their experience and feel properly supported in doing so because the services are fit for purpose. 
  2. Institutions can evidence approaches that prevent and respond to violence, harassment and abuse.
  3. Men (staff and students) know how to access mental health support (recognising intersectionality within that group). 
  4. Institutions will have regard to significant imbalances on courses and take action to address it.

Sexual orientation

  1. Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual staff and students report that they feel safe being ‘out’ at university and college. 
  • Scottish Funding Council is a non-departmental public body accountable to Scottish Government Ministers. SFC are Scotland’s tertiary education and research authority, and its purpose is to sustain a world-leading system of tertiary education, research and innovation that enables students to flourish, changes lives for the better and supports social, economic and environmental wellbeing. SFC hold colleges, universities and other funded bodies to account for their delivery of required outcomes.
  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission is Britain’s equality regulator. The EHRC works to promote and uphold equality and human rights laws and standards so that everyone gets a fair chance in life. 
  • In March 2020, SFC and the EHRC signed a memorandum of understanding underlining a shared aspiration to strengthen compliance with the Public Sector Equality Duty among colleges and universities in Scotland. Read our announcement here.

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