Equality and diversity

What does the law say?

The Equality Act 2010 requires public sector bodies to have due regard to the need to:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation
  • advance equality of opportunity between people who do and do not share a protected characteristic
  • foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not share a protected characteristic.

The Act applies to the Office for Students and publicly-funded higher education providers as employers and providers of public services.

The duty to comply with the Act is referred to as the ‘public sector equality duty’ (PSED).

The Equality and Human Rights Commission monitors the Office for Students and higher education providers.

They can enforce the public sector equality duty through judicial review

What are the protected characteristics?

There are nine ‘protected characteristics’. These are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

We must also carry out specific duties under the Act:

  1. To publish information each year which shows how we comply. This includes information about our employees and people with a protected characteristic who are affected by our work.
  2. To publish objectives which set out how we will meet the requirements of the Act at least every four years.
  3. To ensure this information is accessible to the public on our website.

We also promote equality between different socioeconomic groups, as well as other groups underrepresented in higher education.

Like all organisations which employ over 250 people, we publish calculations and data about any gaps in pay between men and women.

See our latest gender pay gap data

The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 also requires us to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity. It states:

‘the need [for the OfS] to promote equality of opportunity in connection with access to and participation in HE provided by English HE providers’.

Our strategy, business plan and key performance measures all reflect our equality and diversity objectives.

We are also subject to the public sector equality duty as a regulator.

Our regulatory framework states that:

‘The OfS’s primary aim is to ensure that English higher education is delivering positive outcomes for all students – past, present and future. This ambition runs through the regulatory framework and the organisation as a whole. The OfS will seek to ensure that all students, from all backgrounds (particularly the most disadvantaged), can access, succeed in, and progress from higher education.’

The framework also describes an approach to regulation which promotes social mobility, and equality and diversity:

‘The new framework equips us to deploy a powerful set of regulatory levers, not only to improve access to higher education, but also to reduce the gaps in continuation, attainment and progression that are currently experienced by different groups of students. The sector has increased opportunity by widening access… but has not achieved equality of opportunity. We will be radical and ambitious to make sure we deliver on the promise of higher education as an engine for social mobility, and a gateway to a better life for those who undertake it.’

We have assessed the impact of the framework, and we expect it to have a positive impact on equality and diversity.

The role and function of the OfS follows the public sector equality duty in many ways:

Function Our activities to deliver the duty
Provider-level regulation

Providers in the Approved (fee cap) registration category must have an Access and Participation Plan to charge above the basic undergraduate fee for UK/EU students. The plans require providers to show how their broader strategy for equality and diversity support their measures to improve access and participation.

Sector-level regulation

We work with the sector to champion and address issues affecting students with protected characteristics.

We also embed equality and diversity in our work to support graduate skills and employability, the assessment of teaching excellence through the Teaching Excellence Framework and our work to inform student choice.


We target our funding to support social mobility and equality, aligning it with our access and participation strategy. We fund programmes which seek to improve equality for students with protected characteristics. 

Last updated 30 March 2020
30 March 2020
Added link to new page on the OfS's gender pay gap

Describe your experience of using this website

Improve experience feedback
* *

Thank you for your feedback