In the UK, since March there have been over 308,000 cases of coronavirus resulting in over 46,000 deaths, according to the UK Government. 28% of businesses have paused or ceased trading altogether and The Guardian estimates unemployment could hit 15% if a second wave comes as anticipated this autumn. Plus there are twenty one universities classified as ‘vulnerable’ as the Covid crisis further increases, according to the largest economic consultancy firm in Europe, meaning they could go out of business.
It’s quite a bleak picture I paint admittedly, but there are positive signs. I believe that there has never been a better time for anyone who has convictions to apply to go to university!
Why do I say this? It is estimated that next year up to half of international students will either defer entry to study in the UK or, as increases in online learning happen as opposed to campus based lectures, international students will be unwilling to to pay the higher fees that their status usually brings, sometimes up to £38,000 per academic year. Consequently, those universities who rely on international student revenue, will be hit hard by the implications arising from the coronavirus pandemic. International students make up a sizeable portion of revenue for universities, with China especially leading the way, making up more than a quarter of the international student population in 2018/19.
What does this mean for students with convictions? Well I recently reached out to a Welsh university to enquire about a potential student applying to attend the university on license (ROTL) from a Category D Open Prison in September 2020. This is a university who has never shown any interest in taking any ROTL students. A university who we have been unable to make any progress with their admissions department or even to have a meeting or discussion previously. Despite this university being renowned for attracting mature students, non-traditional learners and vocational students on to its courses. I was expecting a ‘No’ just like all my other communications.
But this time the answer was different and it was a sea change in attitude: “At the moment, given the current climate, I would be very surprised if any application would be unsuccessful” said the senior academic.
So I thought, let’s test this statement. Representation was made to the Programme Director who was equally enthusiastic. His only concern was the ability to secure a potential work placement and when I allayed these fears, he was extremely keen for this student to apply. I believe the university realised that they have to consider almost every student and, previously marginalised potential student markets, could now be seen as fair game to consider.
My previous representations to university admissions departments for students like this, have always been based around a combination of there being a minimal risk of reoffending, as well as the corporate social responsibility that could clearly be evidenced by approving such an application. Time was spent cultivating and developing a relationship with the key academics and staff that could influence a decision. The financial value to the university was always the final, less significant, consideration. None of this was needed with this application.
Instead I believe the financial value of a student: £27,000+ over three years, is what the universities are thinking about immediately and this is why I believe it is a good time to apply on ROTL, on licence, post release or with unspent convictions. There has never been a better time to be considered I believe.
I’m not saying that students with convictions will make for all of the estimated reduction in international student numbers of course. Instead universities will have to look at other markets to try to plug the gap. These widening participationmarkets should included people with convictions as a specific cohort, which they do not currently. The Higher Education Statistics Agency gets close with Low Participation Neighbourhoods as one of its priority markers for widening participation students, but isn’t that what every prison represents with the numbers of prisoners studying higher level qualifications relatively low to the number of prisoners overall? Now that would be different to see!