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Religion and Belief Equality Policy for Students

contact: Sarah Guise, Head of Equalities and Diversity

Policy

This policy provides guidance to students, and those staff responsible for aspects of their education and welfare, on how the needs of students, with respect to religion and belief are to be met. The policy does not intend to be comprehensive; rather it addresses some important issues that may arise in this context.

UCL recognises that the spiritual and moral systems that religions and beliefs offer can often be of fundamental importance to the wellbeing of students. UCL also recognises that religious rituals, such as dress, diet and prayer, can be an integral part of religious life. It is important that, where reasonably practicable, the needs of students from all religious backgrounds, and also of students with no religious affiliation, are met. It is also important to be clear when the needs of religious students may impinge upon the needs and freedoms of others, and therefore cannot be accommodated.

UCL History and Ethos

UCL is a secular higher education institution that prides itself on its long-standing commitment to equalities and diversity. UCL’s commitment to religious equality in particular is integral to its identity and heritage.

Before UCL’s inception in 1826, the benefits of a university education in England were restricted to males who were members of the Church of England. UCL was founded, in part, to challenge that discrimination and so became the first university in England that provided a progressive alternative to the social exclusivity and religious restrictions of its predecessors, Oxford and Cambridge.

UCL does not have any religious affiliation or endorse any particular denomination or faith. The secular values that UCL upholds are as relevant today as they were at its inception. UCL is committed to providing an inclusive learning and working environment where students and staff of all religions, and none, can thrive. UCL is a global University. It has a rich mix of students from a wide variety of cultural and religious backgrounds. It is this diversity and complexity that contributes to UCL being a world-class institution.

Policy Framework

This policy covers any religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief, but does not ordinarily cover political belief.

There is no exhaustive definition of these beliefs, but in a recent legal case it was determined that in order to be protected by law a belief must be “cogent, serious and worthy of respect in a democratic society"[1].

The legal instruments that relate to religion and belief equality for students are:

  • The Equality Act 2010
  • The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006
  • The Human Rights Act 1998.

This policy follows and reinforces the religious equality provisions in UCL’s Equal Opportunities Policy, Religion and Beliefs Guidance, the Student Code of Conduct and Harassment and Bullying policies.

Academic Freedom and Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion

UCL is an academic institution that places high value on open and reasoned debate. The university recognises the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. These rights are absolute but manifestations of these beliefs are not. The right to manifest a belief may be qualified by the need to show respect for the differing worldviews, lifestyles and identities of others. The university has an over-arching responsibility to promote pluralism and tolerance and will seek to intervene in instances where manifestations of a belief constitute harassment or create conflict that goes beyond open and reasoned debate.

Religious belief will not be used to justify discriminatory behaviour. Instances of this nature will be dealt with under the Disciplinary Code and Procedure in Respect of Students.

Guest speakers can be invited to speak on campus within the framework set out in the university’s Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech[2] and where relevant should be made aware of the provisions of this policy.

Religious Dress

UCL welcomes the diversity of different attire worn by its students. In particular situations some students will not be able to wear certain religious dress due to health and safety considerations and/or to the need for communication between individuals. This may especially apply, for example, in medical and laboratory-based disciplines. In order to comply with health and safety regulations, specific items of clothing such as overalls, protective clothing etc may also need to be worn. The need to comply with health and safety will be given priority over the need for religious expression. Every effort will be made to reach a mutually acceptable solution. Individual cases can be referred to UCL’s Head of Equalities and Diversity for guidance.

When students are working directly with the wider public, UCL considers that it is not appropriate in most situations to wear clothing that obscures the face, as this can impede communication. Student ID cards must have photographs which are compliant with the UK passport standards. Security and examination requirements mean that students may have to be authenticated against their ID cards. If headwear obstructs the face, the temporary removal of such items may be necessary. Authentication requiring their removal will be done in an appropriate location by a staff member of the same sex.

Recruitment and Selection

Students’ religious affiliation is not monitored at the admissions stage or at any other stage of the student life cycle. As UCL does not currently monitor religious affiliation, we have no data to indicate whether there are any differences in the likelihood in securing a place at UCL or in educational outcomes.

Religious discrimination in the recruitment and selection of students will not be tolerated and any allegations of this nature will be fully investigated.

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Enrolment: UCL will endeavour to organise enrolment days and times that do not clash with major religious festivals. Where a clash is unavoidable, alternative days for enrolment will be provided if possible.

Timetabling: UCL has a common timetable which has been designed to ensure that teaching and learning requirements are delivered efficiently and effectively within the available time and space. For these reasons, the timetable cannot accommodate the diversity of religious observance requirements on campus. The normal teaching day runs from 9 am to 6 pm from Monday to Friday. The University understands that there may be certain occasions when a student may be absent due to religious observance. It is expected that this will not be a common occurrence, however, and students should be aware that requests to miss a compulsory class, practical or tutorial can be refused by staff.

Field classes: Certain programmes may schedule field classes on weekends, during vacation periods and public holidays. Students requiring leave of absence from these activities on religious grounds should discuss this and request permission from both their programme tutor and the appropriate course organiser.

Assessment deadlines: Assessment deadlines are given in advance to students. Students who are observing religious festivals around the time of the deadline will need to plan their work so that it is completed in good time.

Examination schedules: As far as is practicable, examinations will be scheduled to avoid religious festivals where work is prohibited. Examination dates will be given in advance. If an examination clashes with a religious festival that a student observes, every reasonable effort will be made to find alternative arrangements. The onus is on the student to speak with their personal or programme tutor about this issue at the earliest opportunity.

Extenuating circumstances: UCL will not accept religious observance, e.g. fasting, as a valid extenuating circumstance.

Extended Leave for Religious Festivals

UCL will not normally allow students to take extended leave for religious events. However, students can make a formal request to their tutor within a reasonable timeframe providing justification for their request. Consideration will be on a case-by-case basis.

Work Placements

When students are on work placement, they are expected to adhere to the policies and practices of their host organisation. The onus is on the student to research these practices and facilities in advance before agreeing to a work placement programme.

Facilities and services

Contemplation facilities: The Contemplation Room is a space on UCL’s main campus where students can pray or engage in quiet reflection or meditation.

Food and drink: UCL and UCLU have outlets which sell a variety of food options. Most of these outlets have vegetarian and vegan options and some stock kosher and halal foods. Events organised by UCL will have vegetarian options when food is provided. Some UCL events serve alcohol but there will always be non-alcoholic drinks provided.

Rental of meeting rooms for religious purposes: UCL rooms may not be used for religious observance. Certain rooms and space booked through UCLU may be used for religious observance.

Harassment

Harassment and discrimination of students on the grounds of religion, belief or non-belief will not be tolerated and will be dealt with under UCL policy as a disciplinary matter. Harassment is defined in law as “unwanted conduct …which has the purpose or effect of either violating the claimant's dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them”.

Harassment on the grounds of religion or belief can occur for a variety of reasons, for example:

  • On the grounds of a person’s belief or non-belief;
  • On the grounds of the belief or non-belief of someone with whom they associate;
  • To join or leave a particular faith;
  • To express or not express their faith;
  • Because they have changed or renounced their religious/belief allegiance.

For more information about harassment and bullying consult the separate policy for students http://www.ucl.ac.uk/academic-manual/part-5/harassment-bullying

Pastoral support for religious students

Chaplaincy: Contact details for UCL Chaplains and faith advisors are published at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/dean-of-students/office

Religious societies: A complete list of all UCL’s student societies (including religious societies) can be found on the UCLU website http://www.uclunion.org/clubs-societies/a-z.php

Implementation

Responsibilities: This policy applies to all UCL students and responsibility for its implementation is held with staff, contractors e.g. security staff, service providers and any other individual associated with the functions of the University.

Deans of Faculty, Heads of Departments and Heads of Service have a responsibility to raise the profile of the policy and to ensure that all their staff or students are aware its contents and requirements. Guidance is available from UCL’s Race, Religion and Belief Equality Champion who takes responsibility for ensuring that issues relating to equality, broadly construed, are appropriately represented in UCL's decision making processes.

Complaints: Any complaints of discrimination, based on the provisions outlined in this policy, should be made in the first instance to the Head of Equalities and Diversity.

Communication: The policy will be notified and made accessible to all students and relevant staff. It will form part of the Academic Manual and will be available on the UCL website.

Monitoring, evaluation and review: The policy will be reviewed at least every three years by the Committee for Equal Opportunities. The Education Committee will also take responsibility for the monitoring of the policy, via the Faculty Teaching Committees.

Scope of the policy: The policy does not give an exhaustive list of religion and belief equality issues. If further guidance is needed, contact the Head of Equalities and Diversity.

Useful Contacts

Further information

UCL’s religion and belief equality webpages http://www.ucl.ac.uk/hr/equalities/belief/index.php

Equality Challenge Unit Guidance http://www.ecu.ac.uk/publications/?browse=subject&filter=religion-and-belief

Faith Guides http://prs.heacademy.ac.uk/publications/faith_guides.html

Religious Literacy Leadership Programme http://religiousliteracyhe.org

July 2013

[1] Nicholson v. Grainger PLC -2009 Employment Tribunal ruling on the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations

[2] The Code can be found at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/staff/resources/documents/Freedom_of_Speech_Code_of_Practice_Rev_Sep_2010.pdf