This policy provides guidance on how your needs with respect to religion and belief, are to be met by UCL and the staff that work with you.
UCL values the diversity of our staff and student body. UCL will not tolerate discrimination, victimisation or harassment based on a person’s religion or belief (or lack of belief) and aims to provide an environment based on understanding and respect - an environment inclusive to all.
This guidance provides information on how your needs with respect to religion and belief are to be met by UCL and the students that study alongside you.
The guidance does not intend to be comprehensive; rather it addresses some important issues that may arise in this context: this is therefore a guiding framework and a living resource.
- the importance of spiritual and religious belief in people.
- that spiritual and moral systems that religions and beliefs offer can be of fundamental importance to the wellbeing of students.
- those religious practices and rituals, such as dress, diet, and prayer, can be an integral and in some cases a non-optional, part of religious life.
- that wherever it can, the needs of all students are met, students from all religious backgrounds, and students with no religious affiliation.
- that the freedom and ability to practice deeply held faith as a member of the UCL community can be fundamental to experiencing a sense of belonging to the UCL community.
- religion and belief or a lack thereof, is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and UCL will not tolerate any form discrimination or harassment associated with religious identity or practice (or lack of religious affiliation). This explicitly includes but is not restricted to antisemitism and Islamophobia.
Contact someone about our guidance
This guidance does not give an exhaustive list of religion and belief equality issues.
If further guidance is needed, you can email:
UCL history and ethos
UCL is a diverse university, which strives towards inclusivity. Our commitment to religious equality is integral to our identity and heritage.
Before UCL’s inception in 1826, the benefits of a university education in England were restricted to men who were members of the Church of England (Anglican). UCL was founded on the principle that it was open to students of any faith, and none. This was an alternative to the social exclusivity and religious restrictions of its predecessors, Oxford, and Cambridge.
UCL does not have any religious affiliation or endorse any 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, or none, can thrive.
UCL is a global University. It has a rich mix of students from a wide variety of cultural and religious backgrounds. UCL acknowledges this diversity and complexity greatly contributes to it being a world-class institution.
This guidance covers any religion, religious belief, similar philosophical belief, or lack of belief but does not ordinarily cover political belief.
Regardless of UCL’s standing as a secular institution, the provisions of the Equality Act in relation to Religion or Belief apply to the student experience.
There is no exhaustive definition of these beliefs, but in case law it has been determined that to be protected by law, a belief must be “cogent, serious and worthy of respect in a democratic society".
The legal instruments and guidance that relate to religion and belief equality for students are:
- Equality Act (2010)
- Equality Act (2010) – Technical Guidance on Further and Higher Education (pdf)
- Public Sector Equality Duty (2011)
- (Equality & Human Rights Commission) Religion or Belief Guide to the Law (2016) (pdf)
- Racial and Religious Hatred Act (2006)
- Human Rights Act (1998)
This guidance follows and reinforces the religious equality provisions within:
- UCL’s Equal Opportunities Policy (2017) (pdf)
- Religion & Belief: Guidance for UCL Managers (pdf)
- Student Harassment and Bullying Policy
- Prevention of Bullying, Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Policy (2020)
- Section 1: Code of Conduct for Students (2021-2022)
- UCL Student Support Framework - Draft 4.0 (2022-23)
Academic freedom and freedom of though, conscience and religion
UCL is an academic institution that places high value on open and reasoned debate. We recognise the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. These rights are absolute, but manifestations of these beliefs are not.
This guidance does not contravene the right of an individual to hold their own views, but beliefs must be expressed in ways that are not intimidating, hostile, or degrading to others or in a form that constitutes harassment by having this effect on others.
Therefore, the right to manifest a belief may be qualified by the need to show respect for the differing worldviews, lifestyles, and identities of others.
UCL has an over-arching responsibility to promote pluralism, tolerance and foster good relations 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 may 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 and where relevant should be made aware of the provisions of this guidance. Quick access to relevant information can be found on this UCL webpage: external speakers.
UCL welcomes the diversity of different attire worn by its students.
The wearing of religious and cultural dress, including clerical collars, headscarves, turbans, and yarmulkes is allowed and must not be discouraged.
However, there are situations where some students may not be able to wear certain religious dress due to health and safety considerations and/or the need for communication between individuals.
This may apply, for example, in medical and laboratory-based disciplines. 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 must be given priority over the need for religious expression. Every effort will be made to reach a mutually acceptable resolution.
Individual cases can be referred to the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion team for guidance, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Student ID cards must have photographs which are compliant with 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. This will be done in an appropriate location by a staff member of the same sex.
Teaching, learning and assessment
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.
The UCL timetable is designed to ensure that teaching and learning requirements are delivered efficiently and effectively within the available time and space.
It may be the case at a local level, especially if departments are aware of previous incidents or calls from students, that an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) is necessary to determine any disproportionate impact to a particular group, for example to Jewish and Muslim students, with the timetabling of mandatory teaching sessions on Fridays.
However, there may be logistical reasons why a timetable may not be able to accommodate all forms of religious observance requirement on campus. The normal teaching day runs from 9 am to 6 pm from Monday to Friday.
UCL understands that there may be certain occasions when a student may be absent due to religious observance. Staff are expected to seek to accommodate these observances, as much as is practicable and reasonable, within the scope of the current Student Attendance Policy.
Certain programmes may schedule field classes on weekends, during vacation periods and public holidays. Students requiring academic adjustments from these activities on religious grounds should discuss this and request permission from their department, within the scope of the current UCL Student Support Framework (2022-23).
Deans, Heads of Department, Faculty and Admissions Tutors, Directors of Services, Registry and Examination Officers, and all responsible officers should consider the main religious festivals and needs relating to Friday prayers (for Muslims) and Sabbath (Friday afternoons and Saturdays) (for Jews) when drawing up assessment, examination, or interview dates for student admissions. UCL provides guidance on the occurrence of major religious and cultural festivals.
Programme directors are encouraged to consult the UCL diversity calendar in advance of setting 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.
UCL refers to the UCL diversity calendar in advance of scheduling the centrally managed assessment timetables and will note religious observances where work is prohibited, and where there is a clash of dates. As far as is practicable, examinations will be scheduled to avoid religious festivals and Sabbath, where work is prohibited. This consideration also falls to academic departments when scheduling departmentally manged exams.
If you observe religious beliefs or cultural customs, for example fasting, you must discuss any concerns under academic adjustments (UCL Student Support Framework (2022-23)).
Extended leave for religious festivals
UCL will not allow students to take extended leave for religious events. However, students might make a formal request to interrupt their studies.
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
The Prayer Room and Meditation Room are spaces on UCL’s main campus where students can pray or engage in quiet reflection or meditation.
UCL acknowledges that currently prayer space on campus is not adequate to meet demand.
Booking regular spaces on campus will be supported as a temporary solution; in the longer term, Estates, Campus Experience, and Infrastructure will coordinate with the Islamic Society and other faith communities, advised by the EDI team, to fully understand the pattern of requirements through the year, and work with the Quiet Contemplation Room Steering Group to develop a long-term sustainable solution.
Food and drink
UCL and Students' Union UCL have outlets which sell a variety of food options based upon the Healthy and Sustainable Food Policy (2021) and accordingly these outlets will have vegetarian and vegan options, with some stocking 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 and beverages without stimulants, and bottled water will always be provided.
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’s Prevention of Bullying, Harassment and Sexual Misconduct 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 may occur for a variety of reasons, for example:
- Due to a person’s belief, or non-belief
- on the grounds of the belief, or non-belief of someone with whom they associate
- in joining or leaving, a particular faith
- with expressing or not expressing, their faith
- because they have changed, or renounced their religious / belief allegiance
Academic Board’s Working Group on Racism and Prejudice highlighted concerns that UCL’s complaints procedures are not clear to students and need to be made more accessible.
Any complaints of discrimination, based on the provisions outlined here, should be made in the first instance to the Director of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion by emailing email@example.com
If you wish to report bullying or harassment related to religion or belief, please do so via the Report + Support online tool. This can be done anonymously, if preferred, but is also a route to making a formal complaint.
Lastly, if you wish to raise a formal complaint, you may do so by emailing the Student Casework Team via firstname.lastname@example.org.
This guidance applies to all UCL students and responsibility for it is held with staff, contractors, security staff, service providers and any other individual associated with the functions of the University.
Deans, Vice-Deans (EDI), Heads of Departments and Heads of Service have a responsibility to raise the profile of this guidance and to ensure that all their staff or students are aware of its contents and requirements.
Guidance is also available from UCL UMC 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.
The awareness and understanding of religious requirements and context are fundamental to achieving an inclusive response to the needs of students of faith.
A greater understanding of, for example, Judaism and Islam (including what constitutes antisemitism and Islamophobia) aids understanding and response to student issues and/or requests to meet religious observances.
Religion and belief guidance relating to staff can be found in the Religion and Belief: Guidance for UCL Managers
The guidance will be notified and made accessible to all students and staff, through multiple routes: Students’ Union UCL, student faith societies, staff newsletters, EDI newsletter, staff equality groups, via Vice Deans (EDI) to Faculties, to name a few.
Monitoring, evaluation and review
The guidance will be reviewed at least every three years by the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Committee, in conjunction with the Education Committee.
They will also take responsibility for monitoring this guidance.
Transparency on the use of "Prevent"
Section 26 of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015, requires UCL, in the exercise of its functions, to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. This duty is known as the “Prevent” duty.
UCL reports annually on “Prevent” to Academic Committee and this can be made available to Students’ Union UCL, SU Sabbatical Officers and the Islamic Society.
Currently, Sabbatical Officers leave Academic Committee when this report is presented, as part of a no-cooperation with the “Prevent” policy.
It should be noted that UCL takes a safeguarding stance with regards to students and staff in the use of Prevent.
Faith at UCL
All major faiths are represented by a student union society at UCL. Some of their pages on the Students' Union UCL website are listed below; many of them may also be found on Facebook and Twitter.