COLLEGES AND universities will be able to deny disabled students entry to courses if they cannot meet academic standards.
But they will face court action if they fail to take "reasonable" steps to accommodate the disabled.
A new Bill, due before Parliament later this year, will extend anti-discrimination legislation to cover education - including the post-16 sector.
A consultation document on the Bill, published this week, says that further and higher education institutions will not have to plan systematically to improve access for disabled students - unlike schools and education authorities.
But they will have to make "reasonable adjustments" to policies, practices, procedures and buildings, to ensure courses are accesible. In asessing what is "reasonable", the report suggests providers will need to consider, amongst other factors, the cost and practicality of the adjustment, and disruption to others.
Students who feel they have been unfairly treated will be able to take their case to the courts and seek financial compensation.
The Government is hoping voluntary conciliation services, proposed in the Bill and to be set up by colleges and universities, will reduce the number of challenges.
Judith Norrington, the Association of Colleges' director of curriculum and uality, welcomed the consultations on the bill. But she called for a realistic time-scale and money to help the sector implement the proposals.
She added: "It's not just about physical things (like accessing buildings), it's about rearranging how work is done and how students' learning is offered.
Education minister Jacqui Smith, launching the consultation at the annual meeting of the National Association for Special Educational Needs, said the Bill was a "major advance". She said "Institutions will have a duty to make physical changes to premises and to provide auxilliary aids and services where necessary - although they won't have a duty to plan (for inclusion). All the duties will be underpinned by a code of practice."
The Disability Rights Task Force, which came up with most of the bill's proposals, has already calculated that they will cost the further and higher education sector at least pound;2 million a year, with one-off costs of around pound;10 million. Estimates from within the sector have come up with much greater costs, just for making buildings physically accessible.
Consultation on the Bill closes on April 28. The proposals are at www.dfee.gov.uksen and www.disability.gov.uk, or ring 0207 925 5528 for copies. Braille, audio and large-print versions are available