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Postgraduate Study


Our aims

The postgraduate admissions process aims to identify the best and brightest students from all backgrounds through a fair, efficient and accessible process.

Having a criminal conviction will not, of itself, prevent you from studying at Cambridge. However, the University has safeguarding duties towards all its students and staff and there may be occasions where these have to be placed ahead of other considerations.

Therefore, in certain circumstances you must provide full details of your criminal conviction at the offer stage. This enables us to assess the risk posed to individuals and the wider University community, identifying where this risk is unacceptable or where specific actions or support are needed to mitigate the risk to an acceptable level.

What has to be declared and how?

If you have a relevant, unspent criminal conviction you must declare this to the University when you accept your offer of admission. This requirement is set out in the PDF icon Terms of Admission under ‘Unspent Criminal Convictions’.

Make your declaration using the following headings.

Your USN:
Surname/family name:
Forename/given name(s):
Course of study applied for:
Application ID Number:
Repeat the information below for each relevant, unspent offence.
Date of offence:
Offence code:
Date of conviction:
Date sentence completed:
Details of any fines or costs imposed:
Name of convicting court and court code:

Your declaration should be sent by email to This mailbox is accessible to the Head of Postgraduate Admissions and authorised staff only. The University and your College may share the information with each other.

If you are uncertain whether your conviction is relevant or unspent, you should make a declaration anyway. If a conviction is determined not to be relevant or is spent then the information will not be kept on your record.

From the receipt of a declaration, your offer will be placed on hold until consideration by the University is complete.

Government guidance on telling an employer or university about your criminal record can be found here.

What is a relevant criminal conviction?

A relevant criminal conviction is any that involves:

  • 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 2000 as amended by the Terrorism Act 2006

What is an unspent criminal conviction?

Spent and unspent convictions are defined by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.The definition of spent is complex (being affected by such factors as the type of offence, the age at which the person was found guilty and the sentence received).  However, it generally means the conviction has lapsed over time and that someone is not required to declare it to an employer or university.

A conviction that will be spent at the point of starting your course of study does not need to be declared unless an individual programme specifically requires it (see the information on DBS checks below).

This website provides useful information on when a conviction is spent and guidance from the Ministry of Justice is available here. You might also get advice from a Citizens Advice Bureau, the Probation Service, or a solicitor (who you may have to pay). The following tables are taken from the Ministry of Justice guidance and provided for information only, the guidance should be consulted in full.

Sentence/disposal Period until conviction is spent for adults* Period until conviction is spent young people**
Custodial sentence of over 4 years, or a public protection sentence Never spent Never spent
Custodial sentence of over 30 months (2 ½ years) and up to and including 48 months (4 years) 7 years 3½ years
Custodial sentence of over 6 months and up to and including 30 months (2 ½ years) 4 years 2 years
Custodial sentence of 6 months or less 2 years 18 months
Community order or youth rehabilitation order 1 year 6 months

* 18 and over at the time of conviction or the time the disposal is administered.
** under 18 at the time of conviction or the time the disposal is administered.
Period applies from the end date of the sentence, including the licence period.

Sentence/disposal Period until conviction is spent for adults* Rehabilitation period for young people**
Fine 1 year 6 months
Conditional discharge Period of the order Period of the order
Absolute discharge None None
Conditional caution and youth conditional caution 3 months or when the caution ceases to have effect if earlier 3 months
Simple caution, youth caution Spent immediately Spent immediately
Compensation order On the discharge of the order (i.e. when it is paid in full) On the discharge of the order (i.e. when it is paid in full)
Sexual harm prevention order Period of the order Period of the order
Binding over order Period of the order Period of the order
Attendance centre order Period of the order Period of the order
Hospital order (with or without a restriction order) Period of the order Period of the order
Referral order Not available for adults Period of the order
Reparation order Not available for adults None

* 18 and over at the time of conviction or the time the disposal is administered.
** under 18 at the time of conviction or the time the disposal is administered.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 applies in England, Wales and Scotland. However, there are some differences in the way in which it operates in Scotland. Information from the Scottish Government is available here.

What about convictions outside England, Wales and Scotland?

Offences should be declared regardless of the jurisdiction of the court where you were convicted.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 is relevant whatever your nationality or residence, and the concept of spent convictions, described above, applies regardless of the jurisdiction of the court where you were convicted.  The basic principle is that the timescales for a conviction to become spent that is set out in the Act also applies in such cases. Specifically, the Act states that:

  • while the conviction may be spent under the law of the country where you were convicted, it is not automatically deemed spent under English law;
  • in determining whether such a conviction is spent, a sentence imposed by a court outside Great Britain will be treated in the same way as the corresponding sentence under English law, or its nearest equivalent.

If you require or are extending a visa then you must also declare any unspent criminal convictions as part of your visa application and this declaration may lead to refusal of your application. For information see the UK Government immigration rules.

What happens if I fail to declare a relevant, unspent criminal conviction?

If you fail to disclose a relevant, unspent conviction, the University may withdraw your application, including if you have received an unconditional offer, at any time up to matriculation. If your application is not withdrawn, the procedures detailed below will be followed.

If you have matriculated before the failure to disclose a conviction is discovered, the University will take disciplinary action which may lead to the termination of your studies. If necessary, the University will take immediate action to withdraw you from the University or exclude or suspend you.

How does a criminal conviction declaration relate to a criminal records or DBS check?

There is an additional process of checks and consideration for applicants to certain programmes which are exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This applies in particular, but is not limited to, courses in Education and Medicine or where research involves contact with children or vulnerable adults. These checks are made by obtaining a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificate for UK students and the same or an equivalent certificate for overseas students.

Your department will determine whether such a check is needed and, if it is, then satisfactory completion of the DBS process will become a condition of your offer. The DBS process is managed by Student Registry, working with departments, and is separate from the criminal conviction process described here. Where a DBS check is made, the requirement for declaring a criminal conviction still applies and any declaration will be considered through the Criminal Conviction Declaration Community outlined below. This will occur in parallel with consideration of a positive DBS disclosure through the relevant University panel and information will be shared with those conducting the DBS process.

How does this process relate to the Student Disciplinary Framework?

If you go on to matriculate and become a registered Student, declaring an existing conviction at application using the process described here will have discharged your responsibility under (1)(c) of the Student Disciplinary Framework.

If you receive a conviction which is relevant and unspent after you have become a registered Student then you will need to declare it to the University under section 6 of the Student Disciplinary Framework.

What happens next?

Providing further information

The Postgraduate Admissions Office will ask you to provide as much information as possible about the nature and context of the offence(s) concerned, by completing a standard form. In particular, you will be asked to provide:

  • a statement from your Probation Officer and/or a relevant senior prison officer;
  • brief factual details of any medical evidence submitted on your behalf during proceedings and any supporting documentation from medical professionals.

It may be necessary for the University to approach third parties for this or additional information. Your consent will always be obtained before contacting third parties about a declared conviction(s). 

The initial risk assessment

The Head of Postgraduate Admissions will conduct a risk assessment based on the documentation received, taking into account factors including:

  • the nature and seriousness of the offence, including its relevance to the proposed programme and to the context of postgraduate study
  • the time that has passed since the offence occurred
  • any pattern of re-offending
  • the nature and length of the sentence given
  • any evidence from probations services or others of the likelihood of re-offending and the risks to other persons or communities, including specific persons
  • any mitigating factors (such as full co-operation by the applicant in the University’s disclosure process, contact with a police offender manager, or positive engagement with an offender management programme)

If your case is determined to be low risk, this assessment will be referred to the Admissions Standing Committee on Criminal Conviction Declarations for confirmation. If confirmed, you will be informed and your offer will proceed as normal.

If your case is determined to be medium or high risk then it will be referred to the Admissions Standing Committee on Criminal Conviction Declarations for consideration and, if needed, further information will be sought. All convictions that have resulted in a sentence of imprisonment (including a suspended sentence) will be considered at least medium risk and referred to the Standing Committee. Your offer will remain on hold until the Standing Committee has come to a final decision.

Further risk assessment and the role of the Admissions Standing Committee on Criminal Conviction Declarations

The Standing Committee comprises three to five senior members of the University. The Committee may also invite a representative of the relevant department, the relevant College and the Legal Services Division, and it may call on external expertise where required.

Based on the documentation gathered, the Standing Committee will review the risk assessment conducted by the Head of Postgraduate Admissions. It will take into account the factors listed above and consider the risk that your admission might pose to other members of your College, department or faculty and the wider University community.

The Standing Committee will make one of the following decisions:

  • your offer can proceed and no additional non-academic conditions will be applied (beyond consent for necessary data sharing);
  • your offer can proceed but certain non-academic offer conditions will be applied to mitigate risk once you matriculate to become a registered student (such as specific pastoral support, supervisory arrangements or restrictions on accommodation or non-academic activity);
  • your offer is withdrawn;
  • further information or specialist external advice is required (for example through the instruction of a specialist forensic psychologist to assess the risk of re-offending or through the appointment of an expert, external Committee member for the particular case) and your case will be reconsidered upon receipt of this.

The role of Colleges

The first two of the decisions above (that is that your offer can proceed) also depend on you receiving a College place. If the Standing Committee decides that your offer should proceed, it will recommend this to your College. However, Colleges are independent bodies and may decide not to make, or continue with, the offer of a place.

  • If that happens when a College has already made you its own offer, then your case can be considered by the College Transfer Panel.
  • When no College offer has yet been made, the Postgraduate Admissions Office will continue with the college allocation process as normal and if, at the end of this, the allocated College is unable to give you a place, then your case can be considered by the College Transfer Panel.

Note that these processes cannot guarantee that a College place is found. Should this happen, your case will return to the Standing Committee and your offer of a place at the University will be withdrawn.

Communicating a decision

The Head of Postgraduate Admissions will tell you the Standing Committee’s final decision, following College consideration where relevant.

If your offer is confirmed, the Standing Committee will determine who, if anyone, within the University or an associated institution (such as an industry placement provider) should be given information about your conviction. This will only be done in order to support you and/or to protect other students and staff. Your consent to this will be a condition of your admission.


Timescales cannot be given for individual cases as circumstances will vary.  The University will aim to deal with your case promptly, but will not compromise on its own process of assurance.  In some cases, completing the process may require you to defer entry between terms or to reapply in the following year.  This is more likely to be the case for courses where the start date is relatively soon after offers are made, e.g. some MSt courses.

Your continuing obligations

If you do not comply in full with admission requirements set in light of your criminal conviction, including providing requested information, the University will have the right to cancel your application.

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.

If you have declared a criminal conviction and you become a registered student, any documentation relating to your conviction will be stored securely and separately from other student records. Access will be restricted to the Head of Postgraduate Admissions (or their delegate) only.

If a criminal conviction is declared and the offer-holder does not become a registered student, then the Postgraduate Admissions Office will keep a copy of the information relating to the conviction and this will be securely stored for a period of one year after the admissions cycle has ended, at which point all electronic and paper files will be deleted.