Students are entitled to the protection of their basic rights including the right to complain and appeal against unfair action. On this page you will find information about your rights as a student.
Knowing your rights as a student can help you resolve problems if things go wrong.
The NUS and your students’ union can support you in learning about and protecting your student rights. Understanding your university’s legal obligations to students can be a useful way to influence change at your institution. To learn more about the responsibilities universities have, click here.
British universities are public bodies, which means they are under legal obligation to ensure students can access education free from harassment and discrimination (including sexual harassment) and they have a duty of care to staff and students.
McAllister Olivarius, equality and discrimination lawyers, explain that the legal obligations from universities to students relate to:
- Common law
- Health and safety
- Data protection and confidentiality law
- Human Rights Act (1998)
- The Equality Act (2010)
Your rights as a student relate to these legal obligations.
‘Contract’ relates to your student rights as a consumer.
Universities in England are regulated by the Office for Students (OfS).
If registered with the OfS, universities have to show how they comply with consumer law for students, as well as meet other conditions laid out by the OfS .
- Universities in Scotland are regulated by the Scottish Funding Council
- Universities in Wales are regulated by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW)
- Universities in Northern Ireland are regulated by the Department for the Economy.
The UK Government website outlines consumer rights for undergraduate university students, and states that universities who do not meet these obligations may be in reach of consumer law.
Student consumer rights include the right to complain to your university if things go wrong. This process must be clear, fair and easily accessible, it must explain the complaints making process, such as who deals with complaints.
Find more information in this UK Government (2015) guide on consumer rights for undergraduate university students.
The Equality Act
The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people, including students, from discrimination. Under the Act, universities have a public sector equality duty to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of ‘protected characteristics.’
Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 places similar responsibilities on universities in Northern Ireland.
Protected characteristics include:
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Religion and belief
- Sexual orientation
Sexual harassment is discrimination based on sex.
Under this duty, university policies and procedures should not have a discriminatory effect – including those that deal with sexual misconduct incidents.
McAllister Olivarius have utilised the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act for students where their complaints of sexual misconduct have been mishandled by the university.
To learn more about the responsibilities universities have for students click here.