Fair admissions: why speaking to applicants matters

Since 2018 when UCAS removed questions about criminal records from their application, universities have had to make their own decisions about whether to ask for most courses. For courses leading to regulated professions, UCAS continue to ask. Universities collect further information about spent and unspent criminal records and conduct their own assessments – often called fitness to practice panels – before making a decision.

Unlock’s encourages universities to hear directly from applicants as part of their assessment. This gives applicants the chance to explain what happened in their own words and to answer any questions the panel may have. It can take place either face-to-face or virtually.

Pavel contacted us after his application to a Masters programme in physiotherapy was rejected. Pavel had a number of convictions for fighting and assault from more than 20 years ago, and a conviction for a drug offence from 10 years ago. Since then he had married and had children, completed a degree and practised a as a sports therapist, working alongside physiotherapists. He had built his own practice and worked for two elite football clubs.

As part of his application, Pavel provided a detailed explanation of his criminal record and several references. He was not asked to attend the panel and, a few days later, his application was rejected. It was clear that the university had not considered all of the evidence Pavel provided.

Unlock wrote to the university, reminding them that Pavel’s convictions for violence were two decades old and that he had worked with patients for several years in a professional setting. The university agreed to convene a fresh panel and Pavel was invited to attend. He was able to address their concerns about his criminal record and explain that, although sports therapy is not a regulated profession, Pavel had been through the FA’s stringent assessment before being allowed to work with children and young people. He had references from a number of professionals who he had worked with and for. The panel approved his application and Pavel received an unconditional offer from the university.

Offering applicants the chance to discuss their criminal record disclosure means fitness to practice panels are able to make better decisions and less likely to unnecessarily reject talented applicants with convictions. Fair admissions doesn’t mean every applicant will be approved, but applicants will have been given a fair chance. Applicants who feel they have bee treated fairly are less likely to appeal a decision, ultimately saving the university time.

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