The Scottish Government is preparing to set up a commission on widening access to Higher Education which will commence in March 2015. This follows commitments set out by Nicola Sturgeon in “One Scotland – Programme for Government” (1)
Talented children are born into deprivation or privilege without discrimination but adversity and opportunity for children are grossly uneven. The correlation between criminal histories and deprivation is therefore unsurprising.
There is a clear research gap regarding the extent to which criminal records are a barrier to Further or Higher Education and the commission on widening access should investigate this important factor as part of its remit. Full-time study is also an opportunity to create the conditions to stop offending and to put the cushion of time between convictions and applying for work.
1 in 10 women and 1 in 3 men in Scotland have a criminal record so this is not a marginal issue and our poorest neighbourhoods have a much greater density of people with convictions than the Scottish averages presented above.
While barriers to wider access are broader and more complex than one issue, quite simply any inclusion strategy is incomplete unless it considers the impact of previous convictions.
There are 2 distinct avenues which the commission should explore regarding barriers for people with convictions.
- The extent to which people with convictions are excluded by further or higher education institutions. (Criminal convictions with certain labels such as, fire-raising, hate crimes and sexual offences are particularly difficult to consider objectively and anecdotal evidence of very good practice and very poor practice in admissions has been presented)
- The extent to which people with convictions, deselect themselves from Further or Higher Education because they anticipate discrimination over their conviction or they deselect themselves due to anxiety about discussing their past. (Self de-selection is common when recruiters request criminal history disclosure for employment)
While the commission has an opportunity to develop a strategic response, Recruit With Conviction seeks a more practical role through the development of academic circles of influence in Scotland, comprising people who are interested in either of the following areas:
- Improving the access to study for people with convictions.
- Improving opportunities for employment or work placements for people with convictions in education institutions and their supply chains – Ultimately improved diversity in recruitment can support wider cultural changes in admissions.
If this appeals to you and you work in Further or Higher Education, then please sign up to the circle of influence on the following link
(1) One Scotland – Programme for Government http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2014/11/6336/5