Scottish students forced to reveal convictions by new rule

Students who are offered a place at a Scottish university will be asked to reveal any unspent criminal convictions, or if they face serious charges.

A new policy means that students offered places at universities in Scotland will have to declare certain criminal convictions and charges.

Universities Scotland said that the personal student data relating to relevant unspent criminal convictions and relevant criminal charges will be used to improve student safety from other students and is part of universities’ ongoing commitment to tackling gender based violence.

In 2018, UK data protection legislation forced a change from the previous system, as run by admissions body UCAS, of collecting data on relevant unspent criminal convictions from students at the initial point of application. 

From then on, Scotland’s 19 universities adopted their own, individual approaches.

The new policy means that students who are offered a place at a Scottish university will be asked to reveal any unspent criminal convictions, or if they face serious charges, including sexual violence offences.

Director of Universities Scotland, Alastair Sim, said that the body was “motivated by student safety and universities’ ongoing work to prevent gender based violence on campus”.

“Most institutions are already collecting some student data about relevant unspent criminal convictions; this project is significant because all of Scotland’s universities have taken the unprecedented step of moving, as one, into the collection and processing of data on relevant criminal charges on a consistent basis,” he said, “In doing so, it responds to campaigners’ calls for greater consistency and transparency, while also addressing points raised by rehabilitation charities.”

Rape survivor and campaigner, Ellie Wilson has been campaigning for the policy change for 18 months.

Her rapist was previously suspended from university while he awaited trial, but was able to enrol in another.

She said the move was “monumental”.

On X, formerly known as Twitter, she wrote: “For too long rapists, including my rapist, have enrolled at universities without declaring their past. After campaigning on this tirelessly I’m delighted to announce that @uni_scot will now gather data on criminal convictions AND charges for such crimes from prospective students!

“This is monumental news, and puts to bed concerns around GDPR that institutions have been hiding behind. Ensuring appropriate safeguarding is impossible if unis aren’t aware of risks. As the legal issues relate to UK law, this sets precedent for @UniversitiesUK to follow suit.

“I’ve been working on this since I was raped while studying at the University of Glasgow, and my rapist then started studying at Edinburgh University while awaiting trial. Amidst all my pain, investigating university policy and campaigning for change became my outlet.

“Survivors matter. Our voices matter. And we can make truly monumental change when we stand up and refuse to be silent. This is a really really proud moment for me, and goes to show that pain honestly can be turned into power.”

Mr Sim added: “We have no wish to put up barriers to education where individuals pose no risk to others. Securing declarations of relevant unspent convictions and charges from offer holders, separate from the applications process is a key foundation, underpinning proportionality.

“We want to give credit to Ellie Wilson and Fiona Drouet of the Emily Test for their significant campaigning on this issue and for the bravery they both continue to show by channelling their lived experience into policy change that will benefit others.”

The announcement comes on the eve of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence in Scotland which runs from November 25 to Sunday December 10 2023.

The next stage in development will be the production of guidance for institutions to support implementation and communication materials for prospective students and key stakeholders, to support wide understanding of the changes.

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