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Student Admissions & Criminal Convictions

by Sarah Lamble


UCU members have expressed serious concerns about changes to College practices regarding student admissions, whereby all applications and re-enrolments are now screened on the basis of criminal conviction.

Birkbeck’s part-time application form now includes a question asking prospective students to disclose any criminal convictions. Although a similar question has appeared on the UCAS application form for several years, to our knowledge Birkbeck has not routinely used that information to screen applications in the past.

Birkbeck’s online re-enrolment forms also now include a mandatory question on criminal convictions, meaning that all returning students are required to answer this question annually.

The UCU branch committee is particularly concerned that this change in practice has been introduced without consultation or scrutiny from relevant committees and without proper communication to Admissions Tutors. UCU members have raised concerns about this change in practice on several grounds, but primarily that it is misguided, discriminatory and at odds with the College’s mission.

In response, the Branch Committee issued the following statement:

Birkbeck UCU Branch Committee opposes the screening of student applications and enrolments on the basis of criminal conviction. There are no compelling reasons for such screening, except in cases where programmes require students come into contact with children or vulnerable adults as part of fulfilling the degree requirements of their programme, and in such cases, disclosure should be sought via the Disclosure and Barring Service (formerly the Criminal Records Bureau & Independent Safeguarding Authority).  In all other situations, screening applications on the basis of criminal conviction is unnecessary, inappropriate and discriminatory. The UCU Branch committee calls for the immediate suspension of blanket screening, as it is not in keeping with Birkbeck’s founding mission of widening access to higher education.

The UCU Branch will continue to raise its concerns at College level and several members are in discussions with colleagues at other universities about organising an event to discuss the wider implications of criminal conviction screening in higher education. If members would like to be involved, please get in touch:


Birkbeck’s unimpressive London Weighting

by John Kelly

In summer 2014 as Birkbeck senior management was celebrating its record £6 million surplus, college unions asked if staff could share in this good fortune. We submitted a claim for London Weighting to be increased to £4,000 per annum from its current £3,066. We pointed out that the value of London Weighting had not kept pace with the national rate of inflation, let alone the higher rate of inflation in London.

The college rejected our claim, refusing point blank to offer any increase at all. Their complacent defence was that London Weighting in Birkbeck is better than at UCL (£2,919), Kings (£2,323) and SOAS (£2,134).

However, they were unmoved by the fact that Goldsmiths pays a London Allowance of £4,365 and the Open University pays £3,800. Moreover employees in two of the capital’s largest public sector organizations receive far more compensation for London living costs. NHS staff receive £4,076 and inner London school teachers are paid between £4,718 and £4,902.

Viewed in the context of its large surplus and the public sector as a whole, Birkbeck’s London Weighting is unimpressive and unambitious. The college was keen to be top of the table in the 2014 THE University of the Year awards, yet in in regard to the London weighting paid to its own staff, the college is content with mid-table mediocrity.