Dame Sally Coates recommends (p55) that universities ‘ban the box’:

“The Prime Minister has set out his intention to ‘ban the box’ for civil service roles (so that applicants do not have to declare their criminal convictions at the initial recruitment stage). Colleges and universities in receipt of public funds should be challenged to match this ambition.”

For more latest news, you can:

  1. see the posts at the bottom of this page
  2. click here for a full list of news posts
  3. sign up our mailing list to receive updates by email
  4. follow the latest on Twitter using the hashtag #BantheBoxUCAS


The problem

UCAS has a tick-box on its application form requiring every applicant to a university in the UK to disclose “relevant unspent convictions”. This discourages people with a criminal record from applying. Many universities don’t use this information until after an offer has been accepted by the applicant. 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 think needs to change

It’s time universities reformed their application process

UCAS should ‘ban the box’ about criminal convictions from their application form

Admissions teams needs training on good practice.


What we’re doing

We are working with UCAS to amend the question and guidance on their application form.

We are working with SPA to update their guidance on criminal records.

We deliver training to universities.

We are supporting universities in implementing fair admissions policies and practices.


Looking for support?

If you’re part of a university and are looking for support or training, visit our section for universities.



“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.” Centre for Community Alternatives in collaboration with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars & Admission Officers, 2010

In a study of the State University of New York, key findings were that:

  1. Asking applicants about past convictions has a ‘chilling effect’ discouraging people from completing the application process
  2. The application attrition rate for individuals who check ‘yes’ to the criminal conviction question is significantly higher than the attrition rates for the general applicant population
  3. Application attrition rates are a greater barrier to admission than rejections based on criminal conviction
  4. Criminal history screening policies have a disparate impact on African American applicants

The study recommended that universities refrain from asking about and considering criminal history information in admissions decision-making.

“There appears to be a growing presumption of inquiring about an applicants history rather than presumption against it. The widening spread, or creep, of non-compulsory disclosure and legally allowed disclosure of a wide range of information beyond unspent criminal convictions can have a chilling effect on the career and educational progression of significant numbers of people.” The use and impact of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974) 


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 #BantheBoxUCAS (although we cannot endorse what gets displayed here).


Useful links, resources and publications

Visit our section for universities

Unlocking potential: a review of education in prison (Dame Sally Coates, May 2016) – in particular, see page 55

Criminal Convictions – Statement for Good Practice (Supporting Professionalism in Admissions, February 2014) – this sets out guidance for higher education institutions.

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)


For more information

  1. Practical self-help information for people with convictions – We have guidance on applying to university on our information site
  2. Practical self-help information for university admissions professionals – Visit our section for universities
  3. Personal experiences – We have posts relating to university and college admissions on our online magazine, theRecord
  4. Discuss this issue – Share your views and experiences on our online forum


Latest news on this issue

  • Unlock responds to review of education in prison

    In September, Michael Gove announced a review of education in adult prisons. Unlock as a charity focuses on the problems that people face as a result of their criminal record. We do not provide education in prisons or in the community to individuals. However, we run a Helpline that deals with over 5,000 people with...
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