Ex-offenders who want to study for a degree may find it easier in future to secure a place on a course after the university admissions service, Ucas, confirmed it was dropping its requirement for students to declare convictions when they apply.
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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 to applying, 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, would no longer include the box. Campaigners said the decision removed one of the barriers to ex-prisoners accessing higher education.
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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.
The introduction of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force last week, prompted Ucas to bring forward the decision to remove the disclosure box.
Ben Jordan, a 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According to PET, ex-offenders have been offered places on the basis of their academic record, only to find their offer withdrawn at the last minute because of concerns about their criminal past.
Georgie, a former prisoner, 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,” he said.
“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’s 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.
“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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