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Unlock comment: Positive changes by UCAS to university application process for students with criminal records

Commenting on news that UCAS, the university admissions service, will no longer ask applicants to declare criminal convictions when they apply for most courses, Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, said:

“Unlock very much welcomes the removal of the main criminal conviction box from the UCAS form. This is a significant change that has the potential to help many people with convictions see a university education as a positive way forward in their lives. For far too long, universities have operated arbitrary, unfair admissions practices towards those who ticked the box. Unlock has seen first-hand how people have been put off from applying to university as a result.


“If universities are committed to widening participation, they should be considering the widest number of potential applicants. The change by UCAS provides a strong signal to universities that criminal records shouldn’t feature in their assessment of academic ability.


“Many institutions are now rightly looking at how to amend their policies and practices. We look forward to working with UCAS and individual universities in developing fairer admissions policies towards students with criminal records.”


The move by UCAS was reported in a Guardian article published yesterday. UCAS also posted details on its website.

Unlock is working on university admissions as part of our Unlocking students with conviction project.


Unlock has worked alongside the Prisoners’ Education Trust and the Longford Trust to push for this change by UCAS.

Nina Champion, Head of Policy at Prisoners’ Education Trust, said:

“A week after the Justice Secretary encouraged businesses to employ people with convictions, Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) warmly welcomees the decision by UCAS to promote second chances when it comes to higher education. The charities PET, Longford Trust and Unlock have been working with UCAS to address some of the arbitrary and discriminatory practices that have gone on in university admissions processes, which have prevented many talented and qualified people from studying at university level.


“People with convictions who are applying to university are showing a huge commitment to turning their lives around. As a society, we should be doing all we can to support them. The chance to go to university helps people to move fully away from crime, build careers and contribute to our communities. Their presence is also hugely beneficial for universities, which gain highly committed students, who help create a more diverse and inclusive learning environment for everyone.”


“We look forward to working with universities at revising their own admissions procedures in light of UCAS’ decision, ensuring fair chances for every student.”


Peter Stanford, Director of the Longford Trust, said:

“The Longford Trust wholeheartedly welcomes the removal of the criminal conviction box from UCAS forms. Among the many obstacles that serving and ex-prisoners have to face when they decide that studying for a degree is the best way of continuing their rehabilitation, this box on UCAS forms has loomed particularly large for many of those we work to support. To many it simply says, ‘we don’t want people like you’ and they decide not to apply. For others, it can be an ordeal by fire, with no consistent practice, even between faculties at the same university, no transparency, and no right to appeal judgements that they feel are unfair. Those who ‘get through’ are left feeling stigmatised, which is hardly a good basis on which to embrace the world of higher education, and share in all the benefits that life on campus offers.


“We would therefore urge that, whatever arrangements universities now decide to put in place around risk assessment for those with criminal convictions, they do so in a manner that learns from the mistakes of the recent past, and enables the widest possible levels of participation”





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