The use of contextual information and data in university and college admissions is now widespread. But the way it’s used, and the benefits to applicants, vary enormously.
Posted Wed 3 October 2018 - 08:22

We asked four higher education providers how contextualised admissions works in practice. This month, we focus on how the process works to identify an applicant.

Doug Jennings, UK Student Recruitment Manager, University of Bristol, said: ‘Applicants who are eligible for a contextual offer are flagged in our student records management system automatically, using information taken from their UCAS form (school code, postcode, and time spent in care), or flagged on our system by a member of the widening participation team, if they have taken part in an outreach programme. If they are made an offer, it is automatically at the contextual level and a bespoke set of communications are triggered.’

At the University of West of Scotland (UWS), approximately 30% of its applicants come from a widening access background, ‘We do not have a separate contextualised admissions policy or procedure; we review each application on an individual basis. The Admissions Team considers all parts of the UCAS application, but an offer is based on the academic entry criteria of each applicant’ said Kirsty Knox, Admissions Manager at UWS.

Some universities are looking at how they can develop their student recruitment systems to enable a more streamlined approach to contextual admissions. ‘Factors such as low participation neighbourhoods and school performance are harder to identify during the regular admissions process’ said Jennifer Geary, Head of Admissions at Goldsmiths, University of London, “but we are able to highlight applicants from local areas, disabled students, and care leavers, who are all given special consideration and may be offered additional support, although decisions are not made on this basis alone. We also have a number of progression agreements in place, aimed at our target groups, and these have things such as guaranteed interviews, or guaranteed lower offers to Goldsmiths on completion.’

‘We consider a range of factors at Warwick University, such as an applicant's school performance, typical rates of progression to higher education in their home area, and whether the applicant has spent time in care’ said Kim Eccleston, Head of Admissions at Warwick.

‘Successful applicants identified through this process are made an offer one or two grades below the standard university offer (to a minimum of BBB grade). Potential applicants are able to check their eligibility on our website.’

As a teacher or adviser, it’s important to be aware of this practice, so you can give the best advice to your students. Contextualised admissions may encourage aspirational applications to higher education, and can help explain why a student has received a certain offer. It seeks to identify those applicants with the greatest potential to succeed on the course. It’s also commonly used to inform support provision at other stages of the application process, and once a student has enrolled.

We’ve produced this   factsheet (126.89 KB) in conjunction with the Fair Education Alliance (FEA), to explain what contextualised admissions might mean for your students' applications.

For more information about how a university or college might undertake contextualised admissions, please consult their individual policy, or contact them directly.

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