Effective practice advice
Much of the practice in the higher education sector to support people with criminal convictions is emerging with a lack of clear evidence of what works. Examples of what providers can do to support this group include:
1. Review admissions policies and procedures
Until 2018, applicants to UCAS were required to disclose any convictions still on their record and each university made its own decisions on how it would use this information.
UCAS no longer requires disclosure of convictions by all applicants. This data will only be requested for courses requiring an enhanced criminal record check or where completion of the course includes entry to a profession that involves such a check (for example medicine).
Universities should consider reviewing their admissions policies and procedures to ensure that they are not routinely collecting information about criminal records from students unnecessarily at application stage, and avoid using this information as part of their assessment of academic merit.
Disclosure of criminal records for some offences may feature elsewhere as a separate process, for example when applying for university accommodation. Providers can refer to Unlock’s tools and approaches to develop fair admissions policies.
2. Ensure compliance with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
GDPR regulations mean that if a university does want to ask for information on criminal convictions, it must publish a policy on how the data will be used and consider the legal basis for asking for disclosure at the application stage.
Universities and colleges should review their published policies to ensure compliance with GDPR.
3. Consider using contextual admissions
Contextual admissions could be a key consideration for applicants with a criminal record who are also from backgrounds known to impact on prior educational attainment. This would enable providers to take account of an individual’s background and circumstances in their decision making processes.
4. Develop widening participation strategies and outreach activities
Some outreach activities to widen access could potentially be adapted for delivery in a prison setting. Outreach teams can include such settings in their plans for developing outreach activity.
The University of Westminster’s outreach team added imprisoned learners into their strategy and they have issued new guidance for people with convictions.
5. Establish prison-university partnerships
Higher education may be provided within secure detention facilities through prison-university partnerships. Some existing partnerships are now well established, and include reading groups, art and philosophy courses, science labs and community development projects.
Some detainees may also be able to study through day release or distance learning.
The Prisoners’ Education Trust have developed a toolkit designed to support educators and prison staff in setting up and delivering a prison-university partnership.
6. Sign up for the ‘Fair chance for students with convictions’ pledge
The charity Unlock, supported by the UPP Foundation, has developed a ‘Fair chance for students with convictions' pledge higher education providers can sign up to.
Higher education providers signing the pledge make a commitment to offering a fair chance to students with a criminal record. It also signals an institution’s support to giving individuals a second chance at life by opening doors to higher education, giving them the best chance of new employment prospects and opportunities.