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Graduate Admissions


The following procedures are intended as a mechanism to ensure that decisions regarding the admission of an applicant with criminal convictions are taken fairly and only after the implications of any conviction have been fully explored.

1. Declaration of criminal convictions

All graduate applicants who have a relevant criminal conviction that is not spent must indicate this on their GRADSAF application.

A relevant criminal conviction is deemed by the University of Cambridge to include convictions, cautions, admonitions, reprimands, final warnings, bind over orders or similar involving one or more of those listed below:

  • Any kind of violence including (but not limited to) threatening behaviour, offences concerning the intention to harm, or offences which resulted in actual bodily harm
  • offences listed in the Sex Offences Act 2003
  • The unlawful supply of controlled drugs or substances where the conviction concerns commercial drug dealing or trafficking
  • Offences involving firearms, crossbows and knives
  • Offences involving arson
  • Offences listed in the Terrorism Act 2006

By ticking the box on the application form stating that you have an unspent criminal conviction and submitting your GRADSAF application form, you are:

  • Accepting that, if you do not fully comply with the possible admission requirements that may be set in light of your unspent criminal conviction, the University of Cambridge shall have the right to cancel your application and you shall have no claim against the University of Cambridge or any higher education institution or college in relation thereto.’

If you are convicted of a relevant criminal offence after you have applied, you must inform the Head of the Graduate Admissions Office by emailing

1.1 Applicants from within the UK and European Economic Area

Convictions that are spent (as defined by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974) are not considered to be relevant and you do not need to disclose them. If you are unsure whether a caution is relevant or spent, you should get advice from a solicitor, Citizens Advice Bureau, the Probation Service or Nacro, the crime reduction charity. If you seek advice from a solicitor you may have to pay for that advice.

Note that offences attracting sentences of 30 months imprisonment or more are never spent and therefore must always be declared.

1.2 Applicants from outside the UK and European Economic Area

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (the Act) is relevant to those of all nationalities and residencies, and the concept of “spent” convictions as set out in the Act applies regardless of the jurisdiction of the court where the offender was convicted. You should note that the Act states the following:

  • Whilst a conviction acquired outside Great Britain may be spent under the relevant law of the country where the person was convicted, it is not automatically deemed spent under English law.
  • In determining whether a conviction is capable of becoming spent, a sentence imposed by a court outside of Great Britain will be treated in the same way as the corresponding sentence under English law, or its nearest equivalent.
  • Where a sentence is imposed by a court outside of Great Britain, the period before which the conviction is deemed spent will be calculated according to English law, as set out in the Act.

If you are unsure whether your conviction is deemed relevant and spent under English law then we strongly encourage you to seek legal advice before answering this question.

If you require a visa or you are extending your visa, then you must declare any unspent criminal convictions, including driving offences, when you apply to the UK Border Agency (UKBA). Please see sections 18 and 19 of the UKBA document 'Part 9 - General grounds for the refusal of entry clearance, leave to enter or variation of leave to enter or remain in the UK' for information regarding possible circumstances under which a visa application may be refused.

2. Action to be taken on receipt of an application which includes a declaration of criminal convictions

Departments assess applications on academic merit alone in the first instance. If there are no academic grounds for making an offer (either before or after interview), then the application will be rejected in the normal way.

If, from an academic viewpoint, your application is felt to merit the offer of a place, the Department will refer the application on to the Degree Committee for approval. Once approved the application will be sent to the Graduate Admissions Office to process the offer. The offer maker will forward any application where a criminal conviction has been declared on the GRADSAF application form to the Head of Graduate Admissions. The Head of Graduate Admissions will then try to obtain as much information as possible about the nature of the offence(s) concerned from you. In particular, you will be asked to provide references from your Probation Officer and/or the relevant prison authorities.

The procedure is summarised in the flow chart attached to this page.

(a) Convictions resulting in a sentence of imprisonment

In the case of convictions which have resulted in a sentence of imprisonment (including a suspended sentence), the Head of Graduate Admissions will refer the application to a Standing Committee, with appropriate membership. The Standing Committee will review the information gathered by the Head of Graduate Admissions and will assess the suitability of the candidate for study at the University of Cambridge. The Standing Committee will either accept the applicant or reject the applicant on grounds related to their criminal record.

Such cases should include an assessment of the risk to other members of the College, department/faculty and the wider University community. Where possible, this assessment should be supported by documentary evidence. Consideration should also be given, within the case, to the need to alert other parties (for example the College accommodation office, faculty or school offices, Socrates/ERASMUS or industry placement organisers/providers etc.) to the circumstances. An indication of any special arrangements or conditions of offer that would be required for appropriate supervision once you become a matriculated student should also be detailed in the case.

(b) Convictions NOT involving a sentence of imprisonment

In the case of convictions that have resulted in a sentence not involving imprisonment, the Head of Graduate Admissions will decide whether or not an offer should be made. Objective reasons for the decision should be recorded.

If the Head of Graduate Admissions is concerned that the nature of the offence in question warrants more extensive investigation, they may choose to refer the matter to the Standing Committee for consideration under the more thorough procedures as described in (a) above.

In all cases, the Standing Committee will sign off the requisite assessment form to indicate the decision to make an offer or reject the applicant, together with a complete copy of the documentation relating to the case.

3. Action to be taken where there is reason to suspect that an applicant has unspent criminal convictions which they have not declared

This is most likely to occur where a referee refers to criminal convictions within a reference.

Any Department or member of the Graduate Admissions Office concerned about the possibility of an undeclared unspent criminal conviction should notify the Head of Graduate Admissions.

The Head of Graduate Admissions will seek the advice of Legal Services. Legal Services should be able to ascertain whether or not the suspicions are well-founded. In the event of your having failed to disclose a very serious conviction, the University of Cambridge may decide to cancel your application. If the application is not cancelled, the Department will follow the appropriate procedures detailed in section 2 above.

4. Recording information relating to criminal convictions

All correspondence relating to your declaration of criminal convictions will be held confidentially on the applicant file in the Universities online database, CamSIS. Access will be restricted to the Head of Graduate Admissions only.

Under the terms of the relevant legislation, documentation relating to Criminal Records Bureau disclosures should be disposed of after six months.

5. Data Protection

All records and correspondence relating to you declaring a relevant criminal conviction will be securely stored in accordance with the University’s Data Protection Policy.

The only information relating to criminal convictions stored on the student system is your email the Graduate Admissions Office declaring a relevant criminal conviction. No other information relating to your conviction is stored on CamSIS.

If you have declared a criminal conviction and your application is successful, all records and correspondence relating to your application and supporting materials will form part of your personal record and will be kept in the same way as all other student records. However, any information relating to your conviction will be stored separately and securely. A decision will be made, based upon your particular circumstances, and informed by the recommendation of the Criminal Convictions Standing Committee, on whom, if anyone, within the University should be provided with further details of your conviction. If your application is successful, you will be provided with further information on data retention in your particular case by the Head of Graduate Admissions.

If you have declared a criminal conviction and your application is unsuccessful, any paper copies of information relating to your conviction which have been circulated will be shredded immediately using the University’s secure shredding service. The Head of Graduate Admissions will keep an electronic copy of any information relating to your conviction as well as any documents received only on paper; this will be securely stored for a period not exceeding 12 months after the admissions cycle has ended, at which point all electronic and paper files will be deleted.

Your consent will always be obtained before seeking further information about any declared convictions from third parties.

6. Scope of the Procedure

To ensure the safety and protection of both students and staff, the above procedures are followed in relation to applications from any student declaring (or discovered to have) a criminal conviction which has not been spent under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. Please note that, under the terms of this act, sentences of 30 months imprisonment or more are never spent, while those of lesser duration do not have to be declared once spent. In practice, this means that the more serious offences must always be declared.

The definition of ‘spent’ is complex, being affected by such factors as the type of the offence, the age at which the person was found guilty and the sentence received.

Please note: Some courses may require a DBS (Disclosure Barring Service – formally known as a CRB) check. This will include, but is not necessarily limited to, courses in Education and Medicine.