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Unlock Category: 4. Education

Funding Opportunities

This is for information only.  We are unable to provide advice on this.  For reasons why, click here.


Seeking funding for a particular purpose is one way to try and rebuild your life. There are a number of options available to people with convictions.

There are, in particular, some funders who specifically provide funding for serving prisoners, those who have recently been released, and those who have recently received a criminal conviction.

There are, of course, other mainstream funding options available, which are not specifically aimed at people with convictions.

There are also funders specifically aimed at education and training.

If you are looking to become self-employed or start up your own business, there is other information available too.

Are you in prison and looking for funding?

  • Speak to your education department regarding educational courses that are available which are supplied by the prison. These are often provided free of charge.
  • There are some funding organisations who will only give funding to approved course providers. Does your course fit this criteria? They may also require a small contribution from you.
  • Ask about any contributions to courses available from the governor (Governors loan)
  • Look at the Prisoner Funder Directory for detailed list of available funders. This is available online, but should also be available through the prison library.

Do you have a criminal conviction and are seeking funding?

  • Take a look at the Prisoner Funder Directory
  • Ask in your local library for “The Guide to Grants for Individuals in Need”. This contains charitable trusts and funders, split both geographically and thematically.

Other funding options

Services provided to people in prison, on probation or in the community

Many organisations that provide services to serving prisoners, people on probation or people with convictions in the community sometimes have, as part of the service that they provide, the ability to cover the costs of funding certain things, such as the costs of training courses, equipment for a particular job, the costs of furnishing for a house.

If you are currently receiving help from an organisation, or have found out about details of organisations that help people in your situation, you should enquire as to whether they have the ability to fund as part of their work.

One notable example of the ability to provide funding is through the HMPPS/ESF Co-financing project (details are available here) where regional and local providers are often able to cover the costs of training and undertaking qualifications as they are being funded to help individuals into these kinds of opportunities and covering the costs is one way in which they can do this.

There are charities which offer grants to people in need based on set criteria – the area in which you live, job sector you work in or intend to work in etc. Turn2Us operate a website which holds details of around 3,000 grants. It allows you to search for any that are available based on your personal circumstances.

Mainstream funding routes

In many cases, the fact that you have a criminal record doesn’t open up any new funding opportunities, but nor should you find that it closes other opportunities down. For example, the fact that you have a criminal record shouldn’t prevent you from getting support in accessing training or courses through your local Job Centre.

People often find that when they move on from the criminal justice system, agencies that work with “offenders/ex-offenders” are limited in what help they can offer. However, you will find other opportunities available, not because you have a criminal record, but simply because you are unemployed, or in need of training or basic skills.

Funding for education and training

The Government operate several means of obtaining funding for education or training.

The Student Loans Company offer financial support to anybody studying in higher education to cover the cost of tuition fees and living expenses. The Student Loans Company do not ask you to disclose details of criminal convictions however, UCAS, with your consent, may share details of your application with the Student Loans Company.

24+ Advanced Learning Loans brings ‘student loan style’ financing to college and training courses. The loan only meets the cost of the course fees and would not cover childcare or living expenses. Eligibility depends on:-

  • The type of course
  • The college or training provider
  • Your age
  • Your nationality or residency status

You will not be asked for details of any criminal cautions or convictions and there are no credit checks required.

The Loan Bursary Fund, which is administered and awarded by individual colleges or institutions provides loans to anybody who has been approved for a 24+ Advanced Learning Loan but requires assistance with expenses. Any eligibility criteria will be set by the individual organisation and will be means tested. You may need to disclose criminal convictions when enrolling for certain courses but, it is unlikely that there will be any need to disclose when making a Bursary Fund application. However, as each college/organisation can set their own criteria you should check both the application form and the small print.

Many colleges offer Discretionary Learner Support Grants to anybody over the age of 19 who faces financial hardship. It is means tested and the amounts available will depend on your personal circumstances. As the application process is different for each college, it is not possible to say with certainty that a criminal record disclosure would not be required. However, is seems unlikely that a college would accept somebody onto a course with a criminal conviction only to deny them finance based on this conviction.

The Government offer financial assistance with travel costs, childcare, equipment or uniform purchase (for specific jobs) from its Flexible Support Fund which can be applied for at Jobcentre Plus offices. Funding does not necessarily need to be in direct relation to education or training, it can be available for difficulties encountered whilst working. The grant is means tested and eligibility will be assessed at an interview conducted at the Jobcentre. The Jobcentre’s Central Enquiry Office have confirmed that disclosure of a criminal record is not part of the general application process but decisions are made on a case by case basis and it would be unlikely that a conviction would negatively affect an application if a disclosure were required.

Professional and Career Development Loans are bank loans that can be used to pay for courses and training that help with your career to getting you into work. Loans offered are between £300 and £10,000 and are offered at a reduced interest rate whilst you are studying. To find out which banks offer loans and request an application pack, contact the National Careers Service on 0800 100 900. You will not be eligible to apply for a Professional and Career Development Loan if you are in prison or a Young Offenders Institution or have been released on temporary licence. If you have been released from prison or a YOI but remain under supervision in the community you would be eligible to apply.

City and Guilds offer a small number of grants to those who wish to study for a City & Guilds qualification. There are only a small number of grants available and City & Guilds will assess applications on a needs basis – therefore a genuine financial barrier to your undertaking a City & Guilds qualification will need to be evidenced. Previous grants have been provided grants for:-

  • Childcare costs
  • Course costs
  • Living expenses whilst undertaking the course
  • Travel expenses

Generally, City & Guilds do not ask any questions about criminal convictions however, you should bear in mind that if you are applying for funding for a qualification which would require full disclosure of a criminal conviction, then City & Guilds may ask specific details about any cautions or convictions. This may influence their decision on whether to grant funding.

Education in prison

This is for information only.  We are unable to provide advice on this.


Making use of your time in prison is absolutely critical. Trying to get on in life with a criminal record is by no means easy, and so you have to try and make use of your time as effectively as possible whilst you are in prison.

This page will hopefully provide you with some useful information and advice on options available whilst in prison in terms of education.

Basic Skills

Education in prison is a mixture of specialist provision and mainstream provision.

All prisons will have an OLASS provider, who primarily provide basic key skills level 1 & 2. A list of the current providers for each region and each prison within that region, can be downloaded here.

Most prisons will also have selection of NVQ’s available. These may be operated by the specific OLASS provider, or may sit within a different area of the prison. You should speak to the prison about what specific courses and qualifications they have to offer.

Careers advice

The National Careers Service launched on 5th April 2012. It offers independent and impartial information and advice on learning and work.

The new service will include provision in the prison estate and replaces its predecessor, the Careers, Information and Advice Service (CIAS).

Visit or call 0800 100 900


Open University, Higher Education and Distance Learning

The processes surrounding Open University (OU), Higher Education and Distance Learning are set out in PSI 32/2012.

This covers areas such eligibility for programmes, funding, transfers (and leaving study) as well as internal matters such as risk management and maintaining records.

There is a useful guide by the Prisoners Education Trust (designed for prison and National Careers Service staff but equally as useful for individuals directly) on Distance Learning. You can download it here.

If you are interested in studying with The Open University, ask your Education Department for a prospectus – the OU offer general and subject specific prospectuses – or you can look at the leaflet Courses for Prisoners. The OU have a specific prospectus/guide for learners in prison. The 2016/2017 version is available on their website. The ‘Offender Learning’ section more broadly contains some useful information.

Many prisons host information and advice sessions where prospective students can view course materials and prospectuses. It may also be possible to speak to an OU adviser about your future study plans. If you are new to university study you may wish to study one of the preparatory Openings courses. These courses are designed to introduce new students to study, or to act as a refresher for those who have not studied for some time. Once you have decided on an area of interest, your Education Department will advise you about the suitability and availability of courses in that area and help you complete the necessary paperwork. All study must be approved by your Prison Governor and you will be advised on your application by Education Department.

Funding your studies

If you are a new student you may be able to get funding from the Prisoners’ Education Trust or from another charity. Please note: Unlock are not able to provide financial assistance. It may also be possible for you or a third party to pay your course fees via the prison. Please discuss this with your Education Department if you would like to explore this option.

For further advice and information (including course start dates), please speak to a member of your prison’s Education Department.

Useful Organisations

Prisoners Education Trust provides access to broader learning opportunities for prisoners, to enhance their chances of building a better life after release. They do this through a grants programme which assists over 2,000 prisoners each year to study distance learning courses in subjects and levels not available in prison. They also provide advice and support, and they make the case for improving policy and practice.

Haven Distribution has been assisting prisoners since 1996 by purchasing educational books for those who wish to use their time in custody effectively, through the pursuit of lifelong learning.

Open University delivers higher education courses to people in prison.

Learning and Work Institute encourage all adults to engage in learning of all kinds.

Applying to university



Aim of this information

This information aims to set out the university application process and points to consider if you’re applying for a course with a criminal record. It’s part of our information on universities, colleges and education.

Why is this important?

Access to education and training can be crucial for those with a criminal record who want to move on with their lives. It’s important to know whether you need to disclose your criminal record and if you do, what impact this might have on your being offered a place.

Making a university application through UCAS

Most higher education institutions will ask questions around criminal records at some point during the application process. Full time undergraduates will usually need to apply through UCAS.

From 2019, applicants for courses through UCAS are no longer required to declare whether they have any relevant unspent criminal convictions when completing their UCAS application for the majority of higher education courses. Instead, applicants tend to now be asked later in the enrolment process. This varies from University to University. Some won’t ask at all, except for regulated courses/roles.

What question does UCAS ask about criminal records?

UCAS only asks about criminal records if you’re considering a course which is closely linked to a profession which would be exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (those which would involve working with children or vulnerable adults). For these types of courses the university you’re applying to will usually undertake an enhanced Disclosure and Barring check. These courses will usually involve a placement where students will be engaging in regulated activity or will be working unsupervised with children or vulnerable adults. Examples of likely courses would be those in health science, teaching and social work.

In this case, you will need to disclose all cautions, warnings and reprimands together with both unspent and spent convictions unless they are eligible for filtering.

If you’re applying for these types of courses, UCAS state the following:-

Criminal conviction declaration

This course has entry requirements which may require you to disclose further information regarding any spent or unspent convictions or any past criminal activities, and may                also require a criminal records check. Further checks may also be required under the Disclosure and Barring Service.

If you have spent or unspent convictions from a court outside Great Britain, additional checks may be carried out depending on the records available in respect of the applicable country. A criminal records check may show all spent and unspent criminal convictions including (but not limited to) cautions, reprimands, final warnings, bind over orders or              similar and, to the extent relevant to this course, may also show details of any minor offences, fixed penalty notices, penalty notices for disorder, ASBO’s or VOOs.

Please tick if you have any spent or unspent convictions or other punishments that would show up on a criminal record check.”

You can find more information here about the process with UCAS.


How will the university handle my application if I disclose a criminal record?

If you disclose a criminal record, you should not automatically be excluded from the application process.

Despite applicants not having to disclose any relevant unspent convictions on the UCAS application form, the majority of universities do ask for disclosure of relevant unspent convictions at some stage within the application process.

If you are asked to disclose a relevant unspent conviction at the application stage the university will normally write to you asking for additional information to enable them to carry out a risk assessment.

Details of your criminal conviction will usually be passed to an appointed person at the university who should then consider it separately from your academic qualifications  and achievement information. You may be asked to provide additional information to the university to assist them in the decision making process.

Universities will use the process of assessing your criminal convictions to determine whether:

  1. Based on the evidence provided, it is judged that you pose an unacceptable risk to the university
  2. You are able to meet the particular professional or statutory requirements that exist for some courses.

If they are satisfied with the information you have provided, your application will be processed in the usual way although, it may be decided to add additional conditions to the offer.

If your application is refused, you will be notified of the decision and you should be provided with details of how to appeal it.

What is a relevant conviction?

This will vary between universities. You should be given guidance as to what an individual University considers ‘relevant’ Generally, if a university asks you to disclose relevant unspent criminal convictions, this would usually include convictions, cautions, orders or similar that are not spent or filtered involving one or more of the following:

  • Any kind of violence including (but not limited to) threatening behaviour, offences concerning the intention to harm or offences which resulted in actual bodily harm.
  • Offences listed in the Sex Offences Act 2003.
  • The unlawful supply of controlled drugs or substances where the conviction concerns commercial drug dealing or trafficking.
  • Offences involving firearms.
  • Offences involving arson.
  • Offences listed in the Terrorism Act 2006.

If your conviction involved an offence similar to those set out above, but was made by a court outside of Great Britain and that conviction would not be considered as spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, you should also disclose it.

What if I receive a conviction after I have applied to the university?

Most Universities have policies explaining what to do in this scenario. They are sometimes found in ‘student conduct’ or ‘student discipline’ policies. Each University will take a slightly different approach, so do ask for the right policy and determine what you need to do from this. Most Universities will expect you to disclose any criminal record received after application or during your studies. . You may be asked to provide additional information.

Appealing a university’s decision to allow you to study

There is no automatic right to appeal the outcome of an admissions decision. However, if you can provide additional relevant information to support your application which you did not originally submit, then many universities will be happy to take this into consideration and may reconsider your application.

When making a final decision, the panel should consider:

  • The nature of your offence and whether it is relevant to the course you’ve applied to study
  • If there is a pattern to your offending behaviour
  • The recommendations of any of your referees
  • Any mitigating or aggravating factors
  • Any comments about your risk of re-offending that was mentioned in any pre-sentencing or other official documentation.

When appealing a decision, you should:

  • Provide evidence that you’ve taken responsibility for your choices and you’ve sought to address your offending behaviour
  • Describe what you’ve done since the time of your offence – for example any new skills or qualifications or work experience
  • Reassure the university that you don’t pose any risk to their students, staff, visitors etc

Some other points to consider:

If the university has an official appeals process it may be the case that your appeal has to be submitted within a certain time period (i.e. within 14 days) and usually in writing. If you wish to provide further evidence which you’re unable to obtain in time, send off your letter and state that the additional evidence will follow within the next few days.

Many universities have admission teams that may be able to help you with the appeals process. They might help you find the relevant guidelines and regulations which could improve your chances of a successful appeal.

Make sure you give your letter a clear structure, presenting the facts without waffling. Write in a formal and business-like manner and avoid being adversarial, hostile or overly emotional. If possible, get the opinion of a trusted person to proof-read your letter prior to sending it. The Unlock advice team can do this, too – you should be mindful of the time sensitive-nature of an appeals process.

Remember that your letter needs to persuade the panel that your case satisfies their decision making criteria and that you are suitable to study on your chosen degree course. Your letter is going to be far more persuasive if it only contains strong points, so try not to dilute your good arguments by including weak ones.

Put yourself in the position of the university and make sure that where you can, you provide evidence to back up your argument.

The outcome of an appeal can be unpredictable but, a well-drafted and persuasive appeal can improve your chances of being successful.

Some students have unrealistic expectations about what will happen if they are successful. Be prepared for the university to place some additional restrictions on you.

Some degrees awarded by a university will lead to a professional qualification and you will need to demonstrate that you have the appropriate skills and attitudes required for entry into the profession. Where there are concerns about your suitability to gain entry into a profession, the university may wish to put you through a Fitness to Practise procedure. Your university should provide you with details of this process and explain how they will go about this.

Getting a placement

Some courses will require students to complete a placement which effectively means that they will be ‘working’  partner organisations (i.e. schools or NHS) whilst completing their course.

Some universities will have concerns that as a result of an individual’s criminal record, it will be difficult for the university to secure a placement for them. However, many health and social work organisations now have specific programmes designed to encourage applications from people with lived experience of disadvantage. Organisations with these in place may be more receptive to people with criminal records.

Some students have managed to secure their own placement, independently, and show this as evidence to the university, and this can often help in persuading the institution.

Other issues a university may consider

A university may be willing to accept a student with a certain conviction but might believe that the individual would be unlikely to be able to practice within the relevant professional occupation at the end of the course. They may feel therefore that it would not be appropriate to offer the individual a place. They may be able to provide the applicant with an alternative, more suitable course.

More information

  1. Practical self-help information – More information on universities and colleges and the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
  2. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experience on our online forum.
  3. Our policy work – Read about the policy work we’re doing on promoting the fair admission policies by universities and colleges.
  4. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

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