This is our landing page for all things related to our Unlocking students with conviction project.

On this page you will find out more about what we’re doing and the latest developments.


The project aims to ensure that more people with convictions are able to access, and benefit from, university education.

Changes announced by UCAS are welcome, and provide a key opportunity for universities to review their approach towards applicants with a criminal record.


Why is it important?

There are over 11 million people in England and Wales with a conviction. Every year there are 1.2 million new convictions. Approximately 7% of these convictions involve a prison sentence, 12% involve probation and the vast majority – over 80% – some other form of court disposal. Having a conviction can mean shame, stigma and discrimination resulting in lifelong barriers to many aspects of life, including higher education.

People with convictions are largely drawn from the same groups UCAS and the government call “disadvantaged” – i.e. those least likely to progress to university. Evidence shows that some groups are disproportionately criminalised: BAME people, care leavers, people from low income households and people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. 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, current admissions policies present serious psychological and practical challenges to access. This is a widening participation issue.

People with convictions are discouraged from applying. UCAS had a tick-box on its application form requiring every applicant to a university in the UK to disclose “relevant unspent convictions”. This discouraged people with a criminal record from applying. It’s what research from the State University of New York (SUNY) calls a “chilling effect” – discouraging people from completing the application process – and it’s why SUNY has removed the box from its forms.

It’s not important at application. Most universities don’t use this information until after an offer has been accepted. Safeguarding issues can be explored after the initial application process has been completed. There are issues around data protection and GDPR to consider too.

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’re working with UCAS to support institutions in responding to the changes UCAS announced in May 2018. This includes producing good practice resources for universities (see below).

We’re running a pilot project with 3 institutions – Cardiff University, Goldsmiths and the University of Southampton – to support them to develop fairer admissions policies and implement best practice procedures.

We’ve developed principles of fair admissions and criminal records

We can run workshops for institutions, bringing together admissions teams and other parts of the institution to look at the policies and processes currently in place and to consider what changes should be made.


What universities are doing

Following the UCAS change, universities are rightly looking at their approach to criminal records. Here are some of the approaches now being taken by universities:

University of Westminster – “We believe an unspent criminal conviction should not automatically prevent an individual from studying at the University of Westminster. Disclosing a criminal conviction is not a requirement of an application to study at the University and applicants will only ever be assessed on their academic suitability.” Read their guidance for applicants with criminal convictions.

London School of Business and Management – “We will not deny an applicant the opportunity to better their life through education on the grounds that the applicant has a criminal conviction. Therefore, in the interest of social justice and in order not to deter an applicant with a criminal conviction from making an application, we do not require the disclosure of criminal convictions.” Read more detail on page 17 of their admissions policy.

University of Essex – Disclosing an unspent criminal conviction is not a standard requirement of an application for membership to the University. When considering the membership of a student to the University a criminal record will only be taken into account during the admissions process where the course is subject to a mandatory DBS check. There are other circumstances in which a criminal record may be relevant to membership of the University and these are set out in this policy.” Read more on Essex’s admissions policy


Latest news

If you’d like to keep up to date with this area, sign up to our mailing list for universities.

13th September 2018 – Unlock launches pilot project, supported by the UPP Foundation, to help universities take on students with criminal records

7th June 2018 – New paper published: University admissions and criminal records – Lessons learned and next steps

29th May 2018 – Ucas drops need for university applicants to declare convictions

You can read older news posts here and at the bottom of this page, and also follow the #studentswithconviction hashtag on Twitter

Good practice

We supported UCAS to produce good practice resources for universities. These are available on the UCAS website. Below is a video that has been produced as part of this work.

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

Read our principles of fair admissions and criminal records


Want to improve the policy/approach at your institution? Get in touch

We’re supporting a range of institutions to implement best practice procedures. If you’re interested in this, please get in touch. Email


Useful links

  1. We have a policy page on university admissions
  2. We have details on the workshops we can run for institutions
  3. If you’d like to keep up to date with this area, sign up to our mailing list for universities.



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