14:25, May 29 45 0 theguardian.com

2018-05-29 14:25:13
Ucas drops need for university applicants to declare convictions

Ex-offenders who want to study for a degree will find it easier in future after the university admissions service, Ucas, confirmed it is dropping its controversial requirement for students to declare convictions when they apply for a place.

Until now, former prisoners and those with unspent convictions have had to tick a criminal record disclosure box when applying to university. For many it acted as a deterrent, while others have been refused a place despite satisfying all the academic requirements.

Ucas confirmed on Tuesday that the next round of applications to begin studies in September 2019 will no longer include the box. The move was welcomed by campaigners who it say removes one of the barriers to ex-prisoners and others with criminal convictions from accessing higher education.

As many universities aim to widen participation, Ucas says it has been working for two years with charities including the Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET), the Longford Trust and Unlock on how to improve progression routes to university for ex-offenders.

But it was the introduction of Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force last week, that prompted Ucas to bring forward the decision to remove the disclosure box.

Confirming the move, Ben Jordan, senior policy and qualifications manager at Ucas, said: “Ucas is committed to ensuring that anyone who wants to study at university or college has the opportunity to apply and isn’t put off by questions on the application.

“We’ll be making changes to the information we collect from applicants about unspent criminal convictions for the 2019 entry cycle. In previous years, everyone was asked to disclose whether they had any unspent, relevant criminal convictions. However, this has now been removed and we hope this reaffirms that higher education is open to everyone.”

According to PET, ex-offenders have been offered places on the basis of their academic record, only to find their offer withdrawn at the last minute because of concerns about their criminal past, which has been flagged up by the disclosure box.

Ex-prisoner Georgie was elated to receive an offer to study architecture at a London university. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought this was going to be the start of something new. But then, on the day of enrolment, the university withdrew my application.

“In an email, they said the reason for reversing their decision was the fact of my criminal record. This was despite the fact it was an offence I had committed in 2009, and I was fully discharged in 2012 with no restrictions against me as an individual. I was destroyed, heartbroken.” The university has since reversed its decision.

Nina Champion, PET head of policy, said: “A week after the justice secretary encouraged businesses to employ people with convictions, PET warmly welcomes 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.”

Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, added: “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.

“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.”

Georgie, who is now helping his university to improve its admissions procedures, said: “I don’t believe universities or any form of higher education institution should be willing to knock back someone just because of their criminal record.

“I think ex-offenders, reformed characters, whatever you want to call them – have a lot to offer: a lot of ambition, a lot of drive, a lot of passion. We probably make the best students just for the sheer fact that we want it so desperately.”

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