UCAS bans the box, promoting fair chances in higher education

30 May 2018

UCAS will no longer require people to disclose a past conviction when applying for most university courses, in a decision that was called for by PET, Unlock and the Longford Trust.

The criminal record disclosure box has been removed from the UCAS application form in time for the 2019 admissions cycle. Applicants will only have to disclose past convictions when the university requires a DBS check for a select number of courses.  

This important step will prevent ‘the chilling effect’ of the disclosure box which can put off some people with convictions applying. If universities follow UCAS’s lead when revising their admissions procedures in light of this decision, then it promises to address some of the examples of arbitrary and unfair admissions practices that have prevented students from reaching their full potential through higher education. This is particularly important given the increased numbers of prisoners doing distance learning and being involved in prison university partnerships.

PET has heard examples of academically suitable applicants being refused a place without explanation, offers of a place being suddenly reversed, or a university even refusing to send someone a prospectus due to their conviction.

Georgie, for example, was accepted to study architecture, only to have the decision overturned on the day of enrolment.

“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. I’m still a little bit gobsmacked to be honest.”

The university has since reversed its decision, offering Georgie a place. It is also working on changing its admissions policies to reflect Georgie’s experience, and UCAS’ recent decision.

Georgie adds:

“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. I’m a firm believer it’s so important to be able to give people the chance to be more and to do more with their lives.”

PET warmly welcomes UCAS’ decision. Head of Policy, Nina Champion, says:

“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.”

Ben Jordan, a senior policy and qualifications manager at UCAS, says he hopes the decision “reaffirms that higher education is open to everyone”.

PET, Unlock and the Longford Trust will continue to work with universities to help them widen participation through build fair, transparent and inclusive admissions processes, and supporting ex-prisoners through their studies. For example the three charities are speaking to university admissions staff at a seminar organised by UCAS on 1 June .

The three charities also believe that universities should offer self-referral support to people with convictions to enable them to thrive at university, such as the Open Book project at Goldsmiths University in London and Project Rebound in the United States. If you work at a university and are interested in looking at this issue more closely, and learning from international good practice, we would like to invite you to our event at Goldsmiths University in London on 19 June. Please contact Nina Champion for more information.

This was reported in The Guardian on 29 May.