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Case of Adam – A criminal record preventing the award of a PhD

Adam had been studying for a PhD; he’d completed his oral examination (subject to some minor corrections) and a submission date for the completed thesis had been set.

During the course of his study Adam was arrested and charged with three offences. His trial started before the submission date of his thesis and the anxiety and stress arising from this meant that he was unable to submit his thesis at the appropriate time. Adam was later convicted and sent to prison.

During his time in prison, Adam set about completing the corrections to his thesis and updating it to reflect changes to legislation.

Given the amount of time that had passed, it was necessary for Adam to reapply to the university for readmission. At this time, he had to disclose his criminal convictions and, as a result of this disclosure he was told that his application needed to go before the Student Conduct Council who would consider the relevance of his criminal record.

Adam was prepared for some reluctance on the part of the university and felt that they may wish to put conditions upon him. However, when it arrived, the university’s decision was as follows:

“To expel him from the university with immediate effect meaning that he would no longer be eligible to be registered for a programme of study, or to be awarded a degree or to reside in university accommodation”

The decision seemed particularly harsh and permanent. Although his convictions would become spent at some point in the future, Adam felt that the university were not just punishing him for his past mistakes, but fixing this punishment for life.

Adam decided to appeal the university’s decision and sent a letter to the Student Conduct Panel. This highlighted the value of education and the very unlikely publicity which would result from awarding the PhD.

In their written reply, the Student Conduct Committee said:

“Having considered all of the additional evidence presented to this Committee of Appeal that the original Committee were not able to consider, this Committee has not been able to find any additional evidence of mitigating factors that would allow the Committee, within its limited powers, to reduce the penalty. The Committee recognises the positive steps that you have taken with your rehabilitation and the trust that you have earned since the start of your custodial sentence, however, this provided no further evidence in terms of mitigating factors for consideration in relation to an appropriate penalty to reflect your actions that led to the conviction, which in turn led to the breach of regulation. It is very unfortunate that there has been an additional consequence of this penalty for you but the Committee can see no evidence that the University should change its view that your actions and the level of criminal activity undertaken were sufficiently serious to terminate your membership of the University, whatever the consequences may be of that decision. The Committee takes the view that the penalty of expulsion from the University remains an appropriate penalty.”

Adam had studied for five years for his PhD prior to going into prison and had completed the majority of his study and the award of his PhD was, in this instance, more of a bureaucratic process.

Commenting on Adam’s experience, Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, said:

“This is a shocking example of where a university believes it’s appropriate to apply a “penalty” of this kind. Adam had worked hard for 5 years towards a PhD and the university didn’t need to make the decision it has. It underlines the need for universities to change the way they deal with criminal records of students.”


Notes about this case

  1. This case relates to Unlock’s policy work on promoting fair admission policies and practices by universities and colleges.
  2. We have practical guidance on applying to university.
  3. Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.
  4. Other policy cases are listed here.

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