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Fair Access to Education

Along with employment, access to education is a significant route through which people with criminal records can move on positively in their lives, and make a contribution to society. Unfortunately, too many prospective students still find themselves turned away by higher education institutions due to stigma and discrimination. Through our work with universities, we’ve already encouraged many to adopt fair admissions policies.

UCAS no longer asks all applicants to declare unspent criminal convictions and universities have developed their own policies. For regulated courses – for example medicine, education or social work – applicants are still asked to declare criminal records on the UCAS application. Following this change, Unlock wanted to work with universities to encourage a fair approach to students with criminal records.


Our Fair Study website launched in 2023, to offer a comprehensive guide on fair practice for higher education providers.


Unlocking students with criminal records

In October 2019 Unlock completed the first part of our work to improve access to higher education for students with criminal records. Three themes emerged from that work:

  1. Take a ‘whole institution approach’: Identify what information is necessary – or not – at different stages in the student lifecycle; bringing decision makers together, as well as looking at support for students
  2. Focus on inclusion: ask ‘how can we safely include’ rather than ‘how can we legitimately exclude’. Applicants with criminal records are a diverse group and fir into traditional widening participation groups. Excluding people because of their past is likely to result in exclusion of under-represented groups
  3. Words matter: Policies of all kinds reflect the values and culture of the university. An inclusive culture begins with inclusive language.

Fair chance pledge


We believe everyone with the potential and ambition to go to university should have the opportunity to do so, regardless of background. People with criminal convictions face obstacles and barriers to accessing university, yet higher education has the power to transform their lives by helping them move forward and make a positive contribution to society. Therefore, as the leaders of our institutions we pledge to give applicants with a criminal record a fair chance by:


  • Asking applicants about criminal records only if – and when – it is necessary
  • Asking targeted and proportionate questions during the admissions process
  • Making our policy transparent and accessible to all applicants
  • If necessary, offering applicants a chance to discuss their case in person before a decision is made
  • Considering flexible adjustments and alternatives for applicants
  • Ensuring staff are trained to make fair and impartial judgements about applicants
  • Supporting students with criminal records to help them achieve academic success
  • Communicating positively about the benefits of a fair admissions process



To sign up to the pledge, please contact

Some of the institutions signed up to the pledge

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12 million people have criminal records in the UK. We need your help to help them.

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