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University and college admissions

UCAS have removed the requirement for all students 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  – will be asked on their UCAS application to declare all criminal records unless they are protected/filtered. Universities should provide information on whether a course will require a disclosure and enhanced DBS check.

See our searchable database of all current policies.


Research from the US found no evidence that admitting people with criminal convictions led to a higher rate of crime on campus.

“There is no evidence that screening for criminal histories increases campus safety, nor is there any evidence suggesting that students with criminal records commit crimes on campus in any way or rate that differs from students without criminal records.”

  1. Asking applicants about convictions has a ‘chilling effect’, deterring applicants
  2. Attrition rates are a greater barrier to admission than rejections based on criminal conviction
  3. Criminal history screening policies have a disparate impact on African American applicants

The study recommended that universities stop asking about and considering criminal history information in admissions.

The case for change

People with criminal records are largely drawn from the groups least likely to progress to university. Evidence shows that some groups are disproportionately criminalised: people from low income households and people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, those from some racialised communities and care experienced people. Along with mature students and first-in-family, these groups are under-represented at university. 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. Almost half the prison population left school with no qualifications, 42% were permanently excluded and nearly a quarter (compared with 2% of the general population) have spent time in the care system as children. University applicants who have spent time in prison have already overcome huge educational, practical and psychological obstacles to even be in a position to apply.

People with criminal records are discouraged from applying. UCAS has removed the tick-box on its application form requiring every applicant to disclose “relevant unspent convictions”. However, most universities continue to ask during admissions. This discourages people with a criminal record from applying.

Universities have complex and differing policies and procedures. Good practice is often not followed. Some universities have a poor track record of treating individuals fairly.

What we’re doing

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

We are taking forward this work through our Unlocking students with criminal records programme.

Useful links, resources and publications

Developing a fair approach to applicants with criminal records – A toolkit for higher education providers (October 2019)

Understanding applicants with criminal records – Briefing for universities and colleges (September 2018)

Criminal convictions good practice for HE providers (UCAS, with support from Unlock, September 2018)

University admissions and criminal records: Lessons learned and next steps (June 2018)

From the US

Beyond the Box (US Department of Education, 2016)

Boxed out: Criminal history screening and college application attrition (Centre for Community Alternatives, 2015)

The use of criminal history records in college admissions: Reconsidered (Centre for Community Alternatives, 2010)

Case studies

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

Case of Isabel – Refused permission to study at University with no right of appeal

Case of Georgie – I was rejected from university because of my record, now I’m campaigning for fair treatment

Case of Charlotte – A lack of understanding of the filtering rules meant I was almost refused a place at university

Case of Saeed – A criminal record stopped an A-grade student studying medicine at university

Case of Lynn – Refused a place to study as the college had no policy for dealing with people with convictions

For more information

  1. See our guidance on applying to university
  2. Visit our section for universities
  3. See posts relating to university and college admissions
  4. Share your views and experiences on our online forum


Support into employment

The problem

People with convictions in the community, and those leaving prison, do not get adequate support to help them turn their lives around and overcome the negative barriers associated with having a criminal record.

We set out more details of the problems as we see them in our submission to the Work and Pensions inquiry in 2016.  

What needs to change

Government, prisons, probation providers and others need to improve the support for individuals with a criminal record to help them secure meaningful employment. This means:

Government stating clearly who has ultimately responsibility for helping prison leavers into work

Everyone being released from prison should understand their criminal record and the impact this will have. This includes understanding the impact of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and being confident in if, what, when and how to disclose to employers

Everyone whose role it is to provide advice and support on employment issues should have the knowledge, skills and confidence to advise on issues relating to criminal records.

Work coaches in prisons and Jobcentres should have training in disclosure of convictions and helping people with criminal records into employment

Prisons should develop strong links with employers, including local businesses, and offer opportunities with real employers

Probation should be required to track the outcomes of the people they help, including whether they have helped them into work.

For those prison leavers who cannot work, benefit claims should be made in prison and paid on day one of release.

What we’re doing

We are working with the government to take forward the recommendations made by the Work and Pensions Committee in their inquiry into support for offenders.

We provide a range of training workshops and courses to practitioners on criminal record and disclosure issues.

Latest news

The latest on this issue can be found at the top of this page. You can also find below the latest from Twitter, using the hashtag #SupportforPWCRs (although we cannot endorse what gets displayed here).

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