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UCAS Meeting

On Tuesday 21st October, a group of us from the Nonbinary Gender Inclusion Project met Ben Jordan (Senior policy executive) and Andrew Hargreaves (Director of Marketing Communications) from UCAS. We had been invited after our petition about making their application forms more trans friendly.

Overall the meeting was a success, although we could use some responses about whether UCAS should ask for sex/gender or gender (see 1) below).

In the meeting UCAS told us they originally made the changes we’d complained about (to ask for legal sex etc) in an effort to be more inclusive, but were admitting they had got it wrong. They said they were grateful to us for raising the issue, and they were committed to changing things.
They have hundreds of universities and other organisations interacting with the data they collect, so it is difficult for them to make changes quickly. They were going out of their way to make the changes as fast as they could within these constraints.
We’d asked them “to make the application process inclusive of people who are transgender by asking for gender rather than ‘legal sex on your birth certificate’ and offering options for people with nonbinary gender identities.” We’d also expressed concerns about their monitoring question which effectively forced people to out themselves as trans.
They said they had looked at adding extra options this application cycle but it was not possible. They are going to change the wording on their forms (points 1 & 3 below) by the end of December in time for their peak time for applications in January, then they will add additional options for the next cycle (ie add to the form in September 2015 for September 2016 university applications).
1) Ask for gender rather than “legal sex on your birth certificate” (will be changed by end of December 2014 – but see concerns about wording)
They agreed to change this. They wanted the wording to be “what is your sex/gender”, and to add guidance in the notes that you should reply with how you identify. We had a long discussion about this as we felt strongly that they should word the question ‘what is your gender’ not ‘sex/gender’. They were under the impression that sex/gender was more inclusive and that there are people that will be offended by only asking for gender. But they listened to our points and will look at it again. They plan to ask other trans groups and others their opinions to check what we are saying is accurate for the wider trans community. We also discussed compiling a survey ourselves as well and maybe getting other trans groups that we know to contact them about it. You can now find our survey here if you wish to comment on this.

2) Offer options for people with nonbinary gender identities. (will be changed by September 2015)
They had already said by email (and we agreed) that they receive applications from all over the world, and they need to word the application form in a way that includes all gender identities other than male and female not just nonbinary.

As a result of our previous survey asking what people preferred, we recommended the options should be: male, female and:
“not listed here” and a blank text box, or
“other” ONLY if accompanied with a blank text box
They agreed to look at whether a blank text box would be possible for them (all text box responses would be coded as the same number on their data). Should this not be possible we recommended the wording “not listed here” or “none of the above”.

3) Monitoring question (will be changed by end of December 2014 – but see concerns about wording)
They were changing their monitoring question to ask “do you identify as transgender” with the question being completely optional and the intention was for for students who want to let their university know they are trans to have the option. No-one will be obliged to answer it and out themselves if they don’t want to. Some people had told us of concerns with the previous UCAS monitoring question that the “prefer not to say” option would not be used by cis people and would effectively be outing people. By making the question entirely optional this is less likely to be a problem.

In addition, UCAS have asked us to return to give their staff training on trans issues, which we agreed to do. We will doing this jointly with some binary-gendered trans men & women so as to represent a wider range of the trans community for the training.

If you want to comment on the sex / gender question as an individual, please use the survey. If you are an organisation please contact us and we can put you in touch with UCAS to comment directly.

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UCAS letter

Here is the letter that Nonbinary Inclusion Project have sent to UCAS about changes to their application form.

Further to your request for enagement: we’d like to ask for 3 changes –

1) Instead of asking for legal sex, UCAS should ask for gender. We would like to see 4 options – male, female, nonbinary, and “not indicated above ____________ ” with the option for applicants to write in their own response. The last 2 boxes would both be coded as option 3 on the HESA forms. We note that HESA has already told us that these changes are acceptable to them .

2) We’ve had reports that many trans* people who applied in the last few years (before the form was changed) and asked for clarification of the gender question have been told to answer with the sex as per their birth certificate rather than their gender. This needs to stop under the new system. Staff should be trained to know that they must not ask for applicants’ “legal sex”, and to use words like “gender identity” instead. Previous experience has taught us that staff training is very important to ensure staff are aware of the changes to the system and what to tell callers.

3) Some people have raised concerns that the monitoring question (” “Is your gender identity different to the sex you were assumed to be at birth? – Yes/No/I prefer not to say”” might out them because ‘only people who are transgender will reply prefer not to say’). We can understand and support the aim of recording the number of transgender applicants to ensure your system promotes equality. However, we would like to see this data collected anonymously in a separate section of the form and stored in an aggregated format rather than being linked to individuals. We note this is already standard practice on many employment applications which could be used as a model for this approach.

With regards to the timing – I can appreciate that it does take a long time for a large organisation such as UCAS to make these type of changes. However, our concern is that they need to be in place in time for people who are applying to university in 2015. We note that the first deadline is 15th October 2014 for most Oxbridge, medicine, dentistry and vetinary applications, and we are concerned that trans* people should have equal access to apply to these courses as well as those with the later deadline. We would like to see at least changes 1) and 2) in place by then. We also note that UCAS may be breaking it’s obligations under the Equality Act 2010 if this does not happen. We are willing to commit to not creating any petitions or protests about the issue until the start of October 2014, to give UCAS time to respond. At this point we would like to recieve an update and we will make a decision about what to do next. We do appreciate that this is a tight timescale for yourselves.

I’ve also copied into this email the other trans* organisations who signed our petition as organisational signatures in case they would also like to comment. We will be posting the email on our website to show our supporters exactly what we have asked for.

Finally, thank you for taking on board our feedback and making a quick decision to change things.

Kind Regards,


UCAS changed their forms to ask for “legal sex on your birth certificate” rather than gender, we started a petition, which got loads of signatures, support from other trans organisations and got written about for Gay Star News. And in the space of about a week and a half, before we’d got round to writing about it on here, UCAS agreed to make changes. “I would like to inform you that we will be making changes to the way in which we gather information about gender and sex as quickly as we possibly can and I would be keen to engage with you about these changes”- more from their email here.

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