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Religion and belief

Supporting the practice and expression of religion and belief amongst staff and students

Traditionally, most higher and further education institutions in the UK have either had links to the Christian faith or been established as secular bodies. However the growing diversity of staff and students at UK HEIs and colleges – together with the recognition of religion and belief as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010 – has led to many institutions developing a more inclusive approach to issues of religion and belief.

The legal protection of religion and belief includes any religion, religious belief or philosophical belief including lack of religion or belief. Alongside the major religions practiced in the UK, smaller religions such as Shintoism, Jainism and a range of pagan beliefs are recognised, as well as non-religious beliefs such as atheism, agnosticism and humanism.

Case law has expanded the definition of belief and philosophies such as vegetarianism and environmentalism have been judged to be protected subject to certain criteria.

Our guidance on Religion and Belief

In September 2018 we launched our major new guidance ‘Religion and belief: supporting inclusion of staff and students in higher education and colleges’. This guidance – available as a complete series, or in sections – updates and consolidates our recommendations and guidance from across the staff and student life-cycles. This includes practical issues like timetabling, catering, recruitment  and inclusive teaching and learning. 

It also provides a overview of legal and policy frameworks, data and monitoring, building inclusive environments, and fostering good relations. There are a range of case studies from across the sector included throughout. Access the guidance here.

Our research

In 2020 Advance HE’s research team examined the growing dataset on student religion and belief in UK higher education through an intersectional lens, looking beyond representation to issues such as non-continuation and degree awarding gaps.

In 2011 ECU collected evidence from over 3000 sector staff and nearly 4000 students through a survey, interviews, focus groups and case studies. This ground breaking research explored the religion and belief issues that were having an impact on the sector and makes recommendations to help institutions to become more confident in developing approaches that meet the needs of their diverse staff and students.

Latest statistics

The latest national statistics on relivgion and belief for staff and students in higher education can be found in our statistical reports. Note that as of the 2017/8 HESA student data collection, ‘religion and belief’ will now be a compulsory return. The HESA website has further details. Our 2018 guidance provides an overview of how ‘religion and belief’ equality monitoring can be used in institutions to further equality, diversity and inclusion.

Other support and activities

  • Member organisations can contact us for advice and guidance around equality issues relating to religion and belief for students and staff.
  • We also provide consultancy and training options around the equality aspects of supporting religion and belief
  • In 2018 we will be supporting Coventry University in its project “tackling religion-based hate crime on the multi-faith campus”, as part of the Office for Students’ Catalyst work on supporting the support the safety and wellbeing of students.