Here's how we support widening access and participation through our products and services.

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 

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.

View UCAS' recent reports

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.

Key findings

  • 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.

View the press release and report 


Insight into application trends and behaviours

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.


 Good practice and toolkits

To support HE providers with their widening access and participation work, we've developed good practice in collaboration with expert organisations. They give examples of the support and good practice available, offer considerations for providers that may not have a defined package of support in place, and explain how providers can prepare for future changes to application data.

We also provide student-facing information and advice to support under-represented groups applying to higher education:

To help teachers and advisers supporting young people from under-represented backgrounds, we offer some specific tools and resources including:


Products and services that support widening access and participation

UCAS works with sector organisations to support with the provision of data to facilitate the analysis of cohorts.

Our data services include:

Outreach Evaluator (STROBE)

Outreach Evaluator (STROBE) is a service developed by UCAS in 2014. It supports the evaluation of widening access and participation activities by taking the personal data that has been supplied and matching it to the UCAS database to trace the progress of the individual. UCAS publishes over two million data points which can be used to support widening access and participation. While the service relies on the input of named data, the output is in an aggregated format. It can be accessed free of charge provided specific criteria are met:

  • The work is for public benefit.
  • The organisation’s finances would be a barrier to them using the paid service.
  • The organisation is happy to have the results shared on ucas.com.

Find out more about Outreach Evaluator (958.69 KB) and how it works (152.33 KB).


Contextualised admissions and UCAS' contextual data service

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. The aim is to form a more complete picture of an individual applicant’s characteristics.

To support contextualised admissions, we currently offer two contextual data services for providers:

  1. UCAS' contextual data service – offering data and background information about an applicant’s school or college, and local area data in the form of POLAR2, POLAR3, POLAR 4, and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD).
  2. Modernised contextualised data service – providing applicant level data and insight into their individual circumstances.

UCAS’ contextual data service

UCAS offers a contextual data service, which provides data about an applicant’s school or college and local area. This can be used for contextual admissions – to help assess an applicant’s prior attainment, and potential to succeed in light of their circumstances. 

The aim is to help providers form a more complete picture of an individual applicant's characteristics. 

View good practice about contextualised admissions here.

Where does contextual data come from?

There are multiple sources of contextual data, such as: 

  • UCAS' contextual data service 
  • commercial sources
  • other sources (e.g. direct from government departments/agencies) 
  • universities' and colleges' own data and research  

What data is available? 

The contextual data service supplies historic data (going back to 2008) about an applicant’s school or college. 

It also provides local area data in the form of POLAR2, POLAR3, POLAR4, and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD). 

For the 2023 cycle, we've updated the school and college level data where available. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic not all the usual data measures are available, particularly those relating to exams or assessments for 2019/20, 2020/21, and 2021/22.

The following data is available for use in the 2023 admissions cycle: 

Measure England NI Scotland Wales
% of students entitled to free school meals (FSM) Yes     Yes
% of students entitled to Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA)   Yes Yes Yes
% of students registered to free school meals (FSM)     Yes  
Average UCAS points for Highers per student     Yes*  
Average UCAS points score for Highers per entry     Yes*  

*Only available in web-link

When is the data available? 

The data, which refers to the previous year’s school cohort, is published by UK education departments in January and collected and processed by UCAS in spring. This is then made available to providers in early September ahead of the following admissions cycle. 

How do I access the data? 

To use the contextual data service, you need to register with us, and make it clear to applicants that you’re accessing this, and how it is being used in the admissions process.   

If you have already signed up to receive contextual data, then you will continue to receive it as per previous years. If you haven’t already registered and want more information, please email our customer success team at cst@ucas.ac.uk

The data is available through all UCAS link products, with the exception of the following measures, which are only available in web-link. 

Scotland: Average UCAS point for Highers per student, and average UCAS point score for Highers per entry, and fields labelled 2014+.

Accessing contextual data through odbc-link and xml-link 

UCAS Undergraduate

Contextual data is available through odbc-link (cvRefSchoolContextualData), xml-link (getUCASApplicantContextualData), and the reference information in web-link.

UCAS Conservatoires

Contextual data is available through odbc-link (cvRefSchoolContextualData), xml-link (getCUKASApplicantContextualData), and the reference information in web-link.

More information on how to access contextual data through the link products is available in the system guides

Modernised contextualised data service

MEM – the multiple equality measure – calculates the probability of your applicants entering higher education based on several equality factors, enabling contextual admissions.  

What can I expect to receive from this service?

The data provided to you through this service will give you an insight into an applicant’s individual circumstances. It includes an applicant’s MEM group (1 – 5), grade profile (containing both predicted and achieved grades), grade profiles adjusted for an individual applicant’s equality context, and POLAR4 quintile. Alongside this data, you’ll receive technical notes, which explain the methodology involved, and details of the data fields included.  

The data included is only available for UK 18 year olds, who have either three predicted A levels, one predicted BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma, one predicted SQA Advanced Higher, or five predicted SQA Highers. They must also have suitable information to allow for calculation of MEM group and adjusted grade profile. 

From April 2021: Providers have told us how valuable access to additional equality dimensions would be – especially in light of the challenges faced this year. Therefore, we’ve enriched the contextual information for 18 and 19 year old English applicants using the MEM framework. This new variant, called MEM2021, will be available to you from 1 April 2021, to support decision-making over Confirmation and Clearing. It will incorporate:

  • free school meals eligibility at age 15
  • where applicants live, using POLAR4 data
  • income deprivation affecting children index (IDACI)
  • school type

Take a look at our pre-recorded webinar to find out more about MEM2021 and how it could support your decision-making.

How do I register for this service?

Existing MCDS customers will receive MEM2021 via MOVEit automatically in the same file – so there is no need to sign up.

If you don’t currently subscribe to MCDS, but want to access MEM2021, complete our webform to sign up.

Questions? Email mcds@ucas.ac.uk and we’ll be happy to help.

Once registered, when and how can I access this data?

Participating providers will receive CSV files via MOVEit, our secure file transfer service. For help using MOVEit, view our  MOVEit user guide (434.22 KB)

Self-declared applicant data collected in 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).


Our work with other organisations

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, which 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.
  • Become – the charity for young care leavers in England, which provides information about the support available in higher education for care leavers, via their Propel website.
  • 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 – read SCiP’s information for HE admissions staff who are supporting service children through the application and transition.
  • 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 Support Network 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. View an example of how the Brilliant Club has made use of our STROBE service (578.41 KB) to measure impact for students and stakeholders.


If you have any suggestions or feedback on our resources, please email our Policy Team at policy@ucas.ac.uk.