Minister Harris to open Unlocking Potential launch

Monday, January 17, 2022 - 11:00 to 13:00

On Monday January 17th, from 11:00-13:00, we will launch Unlocking Potential (UP), a project that aims to make higher education more accessible for people with criminal records. UP is led by the Maynooth University Access Programme (MAP) and the Maynooth University School of Law and Criminology, in partnership with the Maynooth Innovation Lab (Mi:Lab), the Irish Prison Service, the Probation Service, the Pathways Centre (City of Dublin Education and Training Board) and the Irish Penal Reform Trust
At the event, we will:

  • launch the Fair Admissions Toolkit, a collection of resources hosted on a new website, including a Policy Template and a set of Fair Admissions Principles for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), as well as a short documentary and a podcast series exploring the project’s aims and celebrating the achievements of graduates with convictions;
  • launch the Probation Service Kickstarter Scholarships, which MAP will administer on behalf of the Probation Service; and,
  • hear from speakers about the importance of fair admissions and access to higher education for people with convictions, including students who were affected by existing policies, Simon Harris (Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science), Sally Rutterford (Head of Admissions and Deputy Director, Cardiff University) and Caitríona Ryan (Head of Access Policy, Higher Education Authority).

This event will be of interest to university administrators and admissions offices, criminal justice and higher education policymakers and professionals, academics and students with an interest in inclusive education and social justice, people with convictions who are interested in the accessibility of higher education, and NGOs and activists working to support the rights of people with convictions.
UP will launch on Monday 17th January (11:00-13:00) over Zoom. To register, please click here.
Project Background
HEIs’ admissions policies risk deterring applications from people with convictions. UP’s resources aim to help these students overcome the barriers to third-level education. Our goal is to support the education and reintegration of people with convictions (including people with prison experience), helping diversify the third-level student population in the process. We will achieve this by:  

  • developing and sharing a Fair Admissions Toolkit to help HEIs adopt a fair approach to applicants with convictions. The Toolkit includes: a Fair Admissions Policy Template for HEIs; a set of Fair Admissions Principles; the Probation Service Kickstarter Scholarships; a short documentary and podcast series exploring the project’s aims and celebrating the achievements of graduates with convictions; and a new website hosting these and other resources;
  • promoting a common, evidence-based approach to applicants with convictions across the higher education sector in Ireland, encouraging HEIs to review and redevelop their admission policies in relation to the Fair Admissions Principles; and,
  • contributing to wider public discussions on the importance of reducing stigma and supporting the reintegration, education and employment of those with convictions or prison experience, and on the role of HEIs in contributing to fairer, safer communities.

This follows the launch in 2021 of the Mountjoy Prison-Maynooth University Partnership. Established in 2019, the MJMU Partnership works to address a root cause of recidivism by increasing access to higher education for people with convictions, among other collaborative projects.
In Ireland and internationally, the reform of HEI admissions policies for people with convictions is required for five key reasons:

  • there is no evidence that security-focused convictions policies make HEI campuses safer. In fact, students with no prior criminal history are more likely to commit crimes on campus;
  • any person with a criminal record who is applying to a HEI would have already undergone any necessary checks by the criminal justice system. It is not necessary or proportionate for HEIs to try to duplicate this role;
  • research suggests that a requirement to disclose convictions acts as a strong disincentive to these applicants to progress to third-level education as they fear rejection at the first hurdle;
  • requiring all applicants to disclose convictions when applying to HEIs is not always relevant to their suitability to study a particular subject and may constitute a breach of GDPR; and,
  • persons with convictions generally come from disadvantaged groups, such as first-time mature entrants, marginalised populations, and further education and training award holders. A fair admissions policy is key to ensuring that talent from all sectors of Irish society is effectively mobilised.

The UP website and toolkit are a resource to help HEI administrators develop or reform their admissions policies, and help individuals with criminal records to access higher education. To register for the launch of the website and toolkit on January 17th, please click here.
UP is funded principally by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform under the Public Service Innovation Fund, with further financial support provided by its partner organisations.