Equal opportunities, action against discrimination

Diversity, equal opportunities, and action against discrimination: Our policies, processes and services for our teaching and our student experience

The University of Hildesheim Foundation is committed to creating and upholding equality of opportunity for all its members, regardless of their sex or gender, socio-economic background, ethnic origin or religious identity. Core aspects of the University’s mission include the advancement of educational opportunity, acknowledgement of and respect for the diverse experiences of people from immigrant families, and the imperative of enabling students to combine a degree course with a family life. When it became a signatory to the Charta der Vielfalt (Diversity Charter, a German diversity initiative) in 2013, the University declared its commitment to creating a supportive working environment in which all its members feel valued, irrespective of their gender, age, nationality and ethnic identity, religious or philosophical beliefs, disabilities, sexual orientation or identity.

As one of the University’s four core focal issues, diversity is a central component of its MINERVA 2025 development plan, and has particular relevance to the management of our degree courses and teaching, of the student experience we provide, and of our organisational development processes. We aim to continue raising awareness of diversity issues among our staff and to establish aspects of diversity as key categories in our administrative procedures, as well as incorporating diversity more integrally into all aspects of our students’ experience with us.

Discrimination always takes place within a context of societal inequality. The powerful structures underlying this context unfold their impact in all areas of society, and higher education institutions are no exception. We cannot consider our university to be a discrimination-free zone. Further, we are acutely aware that discrimination is complex and can take a variety of forms. Accordingly, this website aims to serve a dual purpose, providing information on discrimination and on preventing its occurrence.

The information that follows, on equal opportunities and action against discrimination in our degree courses and in teaching, is intended for all members of our University. It provides an overview of resources and support services at or associated with the University of Hildesheim and beyond. It offers answers to questions such as:

  • What are my rights and options as a student if I am subject to and/or witness discrimination at the University of Hildesheim?
  • How does the University support students in specific life circumstances to ensure they have an equal opportunity to engage in their studies and meet their academic potential?
  • How can members of the University respond appropriately to discrimination in its various forms?
  • How do the University’s research and knowledge transfer activities take account of equal opportunities and action against discrimination in higher education?


1. What is discrimination?

A full understanding of discrimination incorporates awareness of the law in this area and of a variety of academic views on the matter, specifically from the social sciences. Another essential perspective on discrimination comes from the experience of those subject to it.

What the law says

Two pieces of German legislation set out recognised key characteristics and forms of discrimination.

Article 3 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany stipulates that ‘[n]o person shall be favoured or disfavoured because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political opinions. No person shall be disfavoured because of disability.‘

The General Act on Equal Treatment (AGG) prohibits, within the scope of its applicability, the disadvantaging of people in relation to six characteristics, regardless of whether these characteristics are actually present or the person acting in a discriminatory manner assumes them to be present. These are ‘race or ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation’. The definition of discrimination is met when three conditions are in place: ‘when people (1) are treated less favourably than others in a comparable situation, this less favourable treatment (2) relates to a protected characteristic, and (3) there are no objective and reasonable grounds to justify this treatment.’ (German Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency 2017: 32)

The AGG distinguishes between direct discrimination, which involves the subjection of a person to poorer treatment than another receives in a comparable situation, and indirect discrimination, which takes place through rules, criteria or procedures that are ostensibly neutral. It is the effect of an action or procedure, and not the intent of the person or people carrying it out, that determines whether discrimination has taken place.

Alongside discrimination, the AGG lists harassment, including sexual harassment, and the issuance of instructions to another to discriminate against a person, as infringements of the legal requirement to treat people equally. The University of Hildesheim’s Guidelines on protecting our members from sexual harassment, sex discrimination and sexually abusive behaviour seek to put these legal provisions into practice in our institution.

Discrimination in society

As vital as these legal stipulations are, their practical effect may be limited, and fully understanding discrimination entails looking at it from a variety of points of view. Research in academic fields such as history and the social sciences has provided a detailed account of the way powerful discriminatory structures arise in societies and manifest in the actions of individuals, in institutions or larger-scale societal contexts. We refer to some of these structures using terms such as ‘sexism’, ‘racism’ and ‘ableism’.

According to the findings of various academic studies, and in the view of the German Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, structural discrimination can target people with various characteristics that are yet to be formally protected in law. One of the most evident of these is ‘classism’, that is, discrimination on the basis of a person’s socio-economic background. Research in the social sciences has found that discriminatory comments, structures, artefacts and actions are highly diverse in character and frequently subtle or unintentional; they may manifest in interpersonal interactions, images, or the language we use.

 A further issue is the fact that specific instances and experiences of discrimination are often complex in character. Individuals may find themselves subject to separate instances of discrimination on the basis of different characteristics; for example, in one situation they may experience discrimination due to their sex or gender, in another due to where they come from or are perceived to come from. Or it may be the case that a specific instance of discrimination targets multiple different characteristics. This may have the effect of amplifying the discrimination, or creating a situation in which various facets of discrimination are intertwined in a specific way (intersectionally) and produce a similarly specific impact. For example, women and men subject to racism are each likely to experience discrimination in a particular, specific way.

How people experience discrimination - and how discrimination impacts people

Listening to people’s experiences of discrimination can help us comprehend its forms and impact more fully and specifically. The Diversity Monitoring 2021 survey carried out by the University of Hildesheim, which included questions to students regarding their own subjective experience of discrimination, provided insights into various manifestations of the phenomenon.

Overall, ‘discrimination’ is a multi-faceted issue that occurs in numerous forms. It may occur, for example, through the actions of individuals, through rules or procedures, or through institutional actions. In the context of higher education, it may manifest in the form of difficulties with access to specific parts of the system or associated opportunities (such as problems obtaining funding/student finance or engaging in study groups with other students), in physical barriers (such as inaccessible buildings or teaching rooms), or in individual behaviours ranging from hostile looks to physical violence. Lectures and classes may include discriminatory content that does not target a specific individual, such as general sexist comments or racist content in teaching and learning materials.

The impact of discrimination on individuals can vary equally widely. People subject to discrimination in the higher education context may find their academic performance suffers or struggle to complete their course; they may experience health (including mental health) issues or social exclusion; they may avoid particular situations or people, restricting their freedom of movement, or feel unsafe. If people are having these kinds of experiences at our university, it affects the institution as a whole, the teaching it delivers, and the working atmosphere for all our members.


2. Where to turn if you are experiencing or have witnessed discrimination

If you have personal experience of discrimination as a student at the University of Hildesheim, there are various sources of help and support you can turn to. The advisers there will take your experience seriously and help you work out what you want to do next, taking appropriate account of your needs and of what you would ideally like to happen. They will also be happy to listen to you and talk things over with you if something has happened to you but you are not sure whether it is discrimination, or you’re not certain how you want to respond to it.

As well as receiving advice, you may choose to exercise your right, as a student of the University of Hildesheim, to make a formal complaint of discriminatory treatment, invoking the General Act on Equal Treatment (Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz, AGG). If you do this, there will be an official investigation, during which it may not necessarily be possible to maintain your anonymity.

Many support services can provide help and advice in English. If you need this, check with the service whether it can accommodate this and what it will need in order to do so.

Students at the University of Hildesheim who have experienced discrimination can turn to the following confidential support and advisory services:

Students can also turn to the University’s complaints office pursuant to the General Act on Equal Treatment (AGG). If you do this, you can choose to initiate the formal complaints procedure.

The University’s Guidelines on protecting our members from sexual harassment, sex discrimination and sexually abusive behaviour detail the typical procedure for formal complaints in the areas it covers.

External sources of advice and support can also be of help in situations involving discrimination. They include:

You can respond and make your voice heard If you witness someone being subjected to discriminatory behaviour. As well as in individual acts, discrimination can occur in general rules or procedures or in the content of teaching and learning materials; this type of discrimination too can fall within the remit of the support and advisory services listed above, which can provide you with guidance in these areas. The University Experience Feedback Service (Ideen- und Beschwerdestelle) will be happy to talk you through things if you’re unsure of what to do and feel you need support.

3. Equal opportunities in your degree course: information, advice and support

Students at the University of Hildesheim can access a range of facilities, information, support and advisory services to help them navigate various life circumstances and break down potential barriers to accessing their degree courses and student life and meeting their academic potential.

Alongside central University services, you will find that student-run services, the Studentenwerk, and external services provide advice and information on some topics; in a few cases, you won’t find a University service dedicated to the issue and will need to use the student-run service or an external provider. The various services available can help you in a range of different ways.

Many support services can provide help and advice in English. If you need this, check with the service whether it can accommodate this and what it will need in order to do so.

Central University of Hildesheim information, support and advisory services

Issues of student finance and funding

Gender diversity

Supporting gender equality

  • The University runs a mentoring programme, ProKarriere-Mentoring, for its female students and graduates who are transitioning into graduate careers or embarking on doctoral study. Applications are accepted annually.

International students

First in your family to go to university?

Students with a disability or a long-term health condition

Student parents and carers

  • Students with caring responsibilities (such as parents and those who care for elderly relatives) can register in the Student Enrolment Office for priority in the LSF campus management system and exemption from tuition fees for long-term students.
  • Student parents and their children can use the University’s family space.
  • Please contact the member of staff responsible for the family-friendly institution certification process (audit familiengerechte hochschule) with any questions or enquiries in this area. Follow the link to find additional information on services for student parents, such as childcare facilities run by the Studentenwerk.
  • Each semester, the Equal Opportunities Office advertises scholarships for female students with caring responsibilities who need support in order to be able to focus on their studies in the final stages of their degrees.

Quiet Space (Raum der Stille)

  • Our quiet space (Raum der Stille) (room I 011 on the main campus) is a peaceful room with soothing decor, open to all members of the University who need time out to draw breath, be alone, pray, reflect or recharge.

If you’re struggling with your studies or with your mental health

  • Central Student Advisory Services (ZSB) can help you with a range of issues relating to your degree course and academic work, particularly if you are having trouble managing your studies or find that things aren’t going to plan academically or otherwise.
  • The ZSB runs coaching for students to support you if things aren’t going to plan.
  • The University Experience Feedback Service (Ideen- und Beschwerdestelle) is a neutral point of contact you can turn to in confidence if you have a complaint about an issue related to your studies, need help with conflict management, want to point out aspects of your student experience where there’s room for improvement, or have ideas as to how we can do things better.

Study abroad

  • The Erasmus+ programme provides additional funding for student parents, students with a disability or long-term health condition, those who carry out a substantial amount of paid work alongside their studies, and those who are the first in their families to access higher education. The International Office will be happy to talk you through the possibilities.

Before and after your degree: Choosing a course; moving into a career or further study

  • The support provided by Central Student Advisory Services (ZSB) to those considering a degree course and graduates transitioning to the world of work takes issues around equality of opportunity into account. There is a quiz on the ZSB website that can help prospective students check their expectations. The student peer support service Anker-Peers is happy to help those interested in doing a degree at the University. The ZSB supplies information on studying part-time and on accessing degree study if you don’t have the Abitur (or equivalent). When your degree is in its final stages, the ZSB’s Careers Service has a range of resources and schemes to help you work out what’s next.
  • The University runs a mentoring programme, ProKarriere-Mentoring, for its female students and graduates who are transitioning into graduate careers or embarking on doctoral study. Applications are accepted annually.
  • The University’s Graduate Student Centre runs an annual information event, Perspektive Promotion?, at which current doctoral students share a range of experiences with those interested in entering academia after graduation.

Skills development for students

  • Our Central Student Advisory Services (ZSB) run workshops under the Fachübergreifende Schlüsselkompetenzen (FüSK) transdisciplinary key skills scheme, helping students gain competencies that will facilitate their academic progress; the workshops engage with aspects of equal opportunities issues. The Willkommen in der Wissenschaft programme helps first-year students transition to university, while the ZSB’s Career Service is there to help at the other end, as you make your way into the world of work.
  • The International Office offers a range of courses on acquiring intercultural skills.
  • Our Reading and Writing Skills Centre has a range of programmes and advisory services to help you make optimum use of these vital competencies in your academic work, exams and assessments.

Student-run advisory and support services at the University of Hildesheim

  • The Anker-Peers team, attached to Central Student Advisory Services (ZSB), is made up of students who can give you advice and support on anything and everything to do with your degree course, as well as being a listening ear if you’re experiencing personal difficulties. They can point you to further sources of support if needed.
  • The AStA, the University’s student representative body, has various student representatives with responsibility for particular issues. There are generally new representatives each year; you can contact them if you need help or advice with one of the issues they cover. The AStA can also issue you with a voucher for free-of-charge legal advice on matters related to your degree course and student status.
  • A number of student campaigning and networking groups are active at the University. The current list includes:
    • Antiklassistische Hochschulgruppe Hildesheim (Hildesheim University Group Against Classism)
    • Awareness Hildesheim (campaign group against discrimination and for mutual respect in student life)
    • BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) University Group
    • Erasmus Student Network (ESN)
    • Initiative Inklusiv (student-run support and empowerment initiative for students with a disability or long-term health condition)
    • Muslimische Hochschulgemeinschaft (Muslim Society)
    • UmSorgen (student-run support group for students with mental health conditions and difficulties)

Advisory and support services run by the Studentenwerk

Sources of information, advice and support beyond the University

5. Activities in research and knowledge transfer and at faculty level

At faculty level and in the areas of research and knowledge transfer, the University runs a variety of projects and activities that engage with numerous aspects of anti-discrimination work and equal opportunities in the University’s teaching and student experience and in the higher education sector in general. This work delivers insights into the issues, gives inspiration for tackling the associated challenges, provides information, documents discussions and offers support.


Follow this link for a general overview of University of Hildesheim information, advisory and support services.

Illustrations: Manfred Steger / Pixabay