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University and college admissions

UCAS have removed the requirement for students to non-DBS courses to declare whether they have unspent criminal convictions. Universities have their own approach and some continue to ask at a later stage, some no longer ask at all, and some ask applicants about any restrictions that may affect their studies.

Applicants for courses leading directly to regulated professions – medicine, teaching, or social work, among others  – are still asked on their UCAS application to declare all criminal records unless they are protected/filtered.

The problem

For courses with a DBS requirement, universities must ask about and assess criminal records. Assessing disclosures fairly and proportionately is key to making sure talented candidates with criminal records aren’t unfairly excluded from regulated programmes.

For non-DBS courses, universities can choose whether or not to ask. Most still choose to ask about ‘relevant, unspent convictions’. We think there are a few problems with that approach:

  • Asking about convictions has a ‘chilling effect’, deterring applicants – which may inadvertently discriminate against other groups underrepresented at university
  • There is no evidence asking applicants about criminal records reduces crime on campus
  • Asking about unspent convictions risks overlooking support needs arising from a conviction, even after it becomes spent
  • There is no obvious legal basis for universities to collect criminal records from applicants to non-DBS courses

Despite education being widely recognised as a key factor in successful rehabilitation, benefiting people with convictions, their families, communities and the institution itself, admissions policies present serious psychological and practical challenges to access.

Higher education is a route to improving life chances – but one denied to many of those who need it most.

What we’re doing

We are calling on all universities to sign up to our Fair Admissions Pledge.

We are working with the sector to make other changes through our Unlocking students with criminal records programme.

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

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