Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 it is against the law for education providers to treat, or propose to treat, someone unfavourably because of a personal characteristic protected by law. It is also against the law for education providers to sexually harass someone.
Discrimination is against the law in a wide range of education situations, including schools, colleges, universities or other institutions where training or education is provided. It also covers people or bodies that run educational institutions.
How can discrimination in education happen?
Treating you unfavourably might include:
- refusing to admit you as a student. For example, because of your ethnic background
- denying or limiting your access to benefits available to other students. For example, because of your disability
- unfairly expelling you. For example, because of your sexual orientation
- failing to take adequate steps to prevent or resolve an issue if someone discriminates against or sexually harasses you.
Examples of discrimination in education
Mirjana is enrolled in a politics and international relations subject at university. Her class is currently studying the conflict in her home country and her tutor frequently makes derogatory comments about people of her nationality while looking and pointing at Mirjana. This makes her feel very uncomfortable.
Renske is hassled and bullied at school because a newspaper prints an article that says her mother has HIV. The school fails to stop the bullying and Renske eventually leaves the school.
Are there any exceptions to the law?
The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 includes some exceptions, which mean that discrimination will not be against the law in particular circumstances.
Positive steps can also be taken to help disadvantaged groups using special measures, which is not discrimination under the law.
If an exception or special measure does not apply, in some circumstances an exemption from the Act may be sought from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
The Act also includes four exceptions in the provision of education where discrimination is permitted.
Programs for specific education needs
Schools and other education providers may run programs entirely or mainly for students of a particular sex, race, religious belief or age group, or for students with a disability.
The exception allows education providers to target education towards the needs of particular groups. Students may be ineligible for such programs if they do not have the relevant personal characteristic.
Make a complaint to the Commission
If you think you have been discriminated against, sexually harassed, or vilified, contact us and talk about your concerns. Our dispute resolution service is free and confidential. We can send you information about the complaint process and if we can’t help you we will try to refer you to someone who can.
To make a complaint:
- contact us by phone, in person or email. We also have a free interpreter service
- submit your complaint online or download our complaint form (DOC, 230KB).
Find out more about making a complaint.