We work in partnership with charities and other sector organisations, to provide practical and inspiring information, advice and resources for under-represented groups, as well as producing reports to inform public debate.
We've produced a range of materials to provide you with information to support widening access and participation.
- Analysis and insights associated with progression to post-18 education and training
- Insight into application trends and behaviours
- Contextualised admissions
- Entry requirements in Scotland
- Toolkits available to support your students’ individual needs
- Our work with other organisations
Using applicant and survey data, UCAS publishes high-impact reports offering insight into students’ progression to their next steps, including the barriers and motivations along the way. These reports cover a broad range of issues, including student decision-making, mental health, apprenticeships, LGBT+, and widening participation.
Where next: What influences the choices school leavers make?
In March 2021, we released our 'Where next' report, which highlighted the impact of qualification and subject choice at school on students’ future pathways, and recommended ways they can be better supported to make fully informed choices at every stage.
- 83% of students choose their degree subject before they choose their preferred university or college, highlighting the importance of subject-focused outreach.
- As well as two in five saying more information and advice would have led to them making better choices, almost one in three say they did not receive any information about apprenticeships from their school, showing that more needs to be done to promote parity across these routes.
- More than a quarter of students we surveyed would make different GCSE/National 5 choices now they know what their degree course involves – and around a third would choose a different post-16 options.
Every year, UCAS publishes an end of cycle report, which provides data and narrative reports, helping to describe national trends in applicant behaviour across the four countries of the UK.
Contextual information and data can be used by universities and colleges to assess an applicant’s achievement and potential in light of their educational and socio-economic background. This is called contextualised admissions, and the aim is to form a more complete picture of the characteristics of an individual applicant.
What’s my role in this?
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 is also commonly used to inform support provision at other stages of the application process, and once a student has enrolled.
What practical steps can I take to help?
- Encourage your students to complete all the relevant application fields in full. The contextual information submitted on the UCAS application is critical to facilitating contextualised admissions.
- Use the reference to indicate any further contextual information which might warrant special consideration. This could include individual circumstances – e.g. mature student, disability, widening participation activities, or information about your school which may affect performance, such as significant staff changes, or damage to buildings.
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.
Self-declared applicant data collected in the UCAS Undergraduate application
In addition to standard personal details and qualifications information, UCAS also gives applicants the opportunity to declare additional information — such as an impairment, or experience of the care system. We ask these questions to give contextual information to providers, to identify those applicants who may be eligible for additional support – whatever form that may take – i.e. financial or emotional.
How it works in practice
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 can vary enormously. To give you an insight into how it’s used and what support is available, we asked four higher education providers how contextualised admissions works in practice.
Courses at Scottish universities and colleges have two sets of entry requirements: standard and minimum.
Both reflect the grades students normally need to achieve by the time they start at the university or college. However, the minimum entry requirements only apply if they are considered to be a ‘widening access’ student.
Who is a widening access student?
To identify an applicant’s full potential, universities and colleges look beyond grades. This is part of their commitment to address the current under-representation of certain groups within higher education in Scotland.
Each university and college will have its own policy, so it’s important students check their websites to understand whether they will be considered as a widening access student.
Some examples of students who may be eligible include those who:
- have successfully completed a pre-entry programme
- live in a target postcode area. For example, in a low participation area as measured by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD)
- attend a target school or college where attainment is typically below average
- have experience of being in care
- are estranged from their family (not supported by their family)
- have refugee status, or are an asylum seeker
- are responsible for the unpaid care and wellbeing of a dependant (e.g. a relative, partner, or friend).
- have parents who serve in the armed forces – or who have done so in the past (service children)
- are from a Gypsy, Roma or Traveller background
How will a university or college know if someone is a widening access student?
It’s important students complete all the relevant fields in their UCAS application, as this is their opportunity to let their chosen university or college(s) know about their circumstances. Their personal statement can be used to highlight any further contextual information which might warrant special consideration. Individual circumstances, or information about your school which may affect performance, can also be added to the reference.
What does this mean for my students?
If you are advising someone who may be considered a widening access student, encourage them to check the minimum entry requirements in the UCAS search tool. Also remind them to visit universities and colleges’ websites to confirm whether they are considered a widening access student. If they’re still unsure, they should contact the university or college directly.
Universities and colleges may also consider widening access students for additional support (financial or otherwise), either during the application process, or once they have enrolled.
We've developed toolkits with information and advice to help support under-represented groups applying to higher education.
- Supporting students with individual needs toolkit – includes practical information on how to support:
- disabled students (including long-term illnesses and learning differences)
- students with mental health conditions
- care-experienced students
- students estranged from their parents
- refugees and asylum seekers
- students with caring responsibilities
- students with parenting responsibilities
- children from UK Armed Forces families (Service children)
- UK Armed Forces veterans and Service leavers
- Mature students – mature student tips for UCAS Undergraduate applications.
- Part-time students – pros and cons of each study mode.
We work with a range of organisations to provide relevant, expert information and advice to different audiences.
Organisations we have worked with to support students with specific individual needs include:
- Carers Trust, which provides examples of university initiatives for students with caring responsibilities
- the National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP), the professional association for disability and inclusivity practitioners in higher and further education. NADP provides codes of practice, peer support, conferences and education events, a legal helpline service, and much more
Stand Alone, the charity for estranged people, offers an advice portal specifically for young people entering higher education, and a pledge for universities and colleges to show their commitment to supporting these students
- Service Children’s Progression Alliance (SCiP), a partnership of organisations focused on improving outcomes for children from military families, including supporting progression to higher education. We have worked together to create a guide for students writing their personal statement, and for advisers supporting them through the application process
- Service Children’s Progression Alliance (SCiP), a partnership of organisations focused on improving outcomes for children from military families, including supporting progression to higher education
- The National Union of Students (NUS) is the national voice of students, providing information and advice on all aspects of student life
- Student Action for Refugees (STAR) is a national network of student groups working to improve the lives of refugees in the UK. They offer a list of scholarships available to asylum seekers and refugees who want to go to university
- Refugee Education UK offers support services to help refugees and asylum seekers overcome any challenges in going to university, and offers useful resources.
UCAS regularly engages with regulators around the UK, including the Office for Students (OfS) in England, the Higher Education Funding Council Wales (HEFCW), and the Scottish Funding Council. The organisations require universities and colleges to outline their plans to support widening access and participation and success in HE.
UCAS is a member of the following organisations:
- the Fair Education Alliance (FEA) – a coalition of organisations from across education, charities, and business. Together, the FEA is working to tackle educational inequality, building a fairer education for all by 2022
- the National Educational Opportunities Network (NEON) – a professional organisation supporting those involved in widening access to higher education
UCAS also works with organisations to facilitate the evaluation of the impact of their widening access and participation activities. The Brilliant Club has produced an example (578.41 KB) of how they made use of our STROBE service to measure impact for students and stakeholders.