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  • Foreword
  • Executive summary
  • Introduction
    • Our responsibilities
    • The legal framework
    • Context: the changing landscape of HE in England
    • Responsibility for the equality and diversity scheme
  • Our approach to equality and diversity
    • How we will deliver our duties
    • Working with higher education institutions
    • Information and engagement
    • Equality Challenge Unit
  • Addressing equality and diversity
    • Role 1: as a public funder and regulator
      • Achievements so far
      • Challenges
      • Aims and objectives
    • Role 2: protecting students' interests
      • Achievements so far
      • Challenges
      • Aims and objectives
    • Role 3: as an employer
      • Achievements so far
      • Challenges
      • Aims and objectives
  • Annex A Development of the document and evidence used
  • Annex B Information and engagement strategy
  • Annex C Abbreviations and glossary


I am delighted to present this new version of HEFCE's Equality Scheme. This updates our previous Equality Scheme.

In drafting this document we are of course responding to the latest changes in legislation in equality and diversity, notably the Equality Act 2010. However, the updated scheme is also timely in allowing us to demonstrate our continued commitment to equality and diversity at a time of considerable change, in particular the response to the fiscal deficit and changes to student funding. It is vital that higher education is open and accessible to all. Indeed commitment to this should be strengthened throughout the transition period and beyond. This not only fulfils our legal obligations but underlines our commitment to economic, social and cultural development.

In this scheme, we demonstrate that equality and diversity are central to everything we do, at all levels of our organisation. We also aim to support the sector in maintaining equality and diversity, through working with key partners such as the Equality Challenge Unit and the Higher Education Statistics Agency. These bodies work together to provide resources and information that help institutions share good practice and address equality and diversity challenges.

Thank you to everyone who responded to our consultation and I look forward to working with all our partners to help us achieve our aims in promoting equality and diversity in higher education.

Sir Alan Langlands
Chief Executive

Executive summary


1.   This new Equality and Diversity Scheme sets out HEFCE’s approach to equality and diversity, both within HEFCE itself and in its work with the higher education sector, for the next three years. This includes our approach to meeting the requirements of the Equality Act 2010.

Key points

2.   HEFCE believes that a diverse and inclusive organisational culture – one in which everyone feels valued and can learn or work to their full potential – makes for a more effective and productive workforce. This applies both within HEFCE and in the higher education sector. It also contributes to a better functioning society.

3.   This equality and diversity scheme sets out HEFCE’s approach to equality and diversity across three of our key roles:

  • Role 1: As a funder and regulator
  • Role 2: Protecting student interests
  • Role 3: As an employer.

4.   We have identified challenges within each of these roles, and set out aims and objectives, building on good practice to address them. Each objective leads to specific actions to be undertaken by HEFCE staff. These are published in our equality and diversity action plan, which will be updated each year and published on our web-site.

5.   The Equality Act 2010 puts a general duty on public sector bodies (including HEFCE and higher and further education institutions) to: eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between eight protected groups. There are nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnershipsee note 1, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Public bodies must meet this general duty both as employers and as providers of public services, and show 'due regard' to the duty across all of their functions.

6.   This scheme is published at a time of transition as HEFCE considers how the recent White Paper on higher education will change its work and how it impacts on different groups. We will regularly assess the impact of our policies as they develop, and will change this scheme as appropriate; it is a living document.

Action required

7.   No action is required from external parties. The scheme and accompanying action plan sets out actions for HEFCE to undertake in meeting the general equality duty, both as a provider of public funds and as an employer. It does not set out any expectations for higher education institutions, which have their own responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. However HEFCE does have responsibility for monitoring institutions’ progress with regard to equality and diversity, and the scheme sets out how we will continue to do this.


  1. Marriage and civil partnership is not covered by the general duty.

Date: 31 January 2012

Ref: 2012/03

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Equality and diversity interest groups (national groups, internal institutional groups and so on)
HEFCE related bodies
Staff responsible for equality and diversity
Student union officers and student representatives
HE institutional representative bodies in England
Professional, statutory and regulatory bodies

Enquiries should be directed to:

Siobhan O’Malley, tel 0117 931 7316, e-mail