Here's how we support widening participation (widening access in Scotland) 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 participation.

Barriers and motivations associated with progression to higher education

In July 2016, we published Through the student lens – a report designed to explore perceptions about progression to higher education from the student's perspective. Over 16,000 recent applicants responded to the survey, about the motivations and influences behind their university choices, and the factors that deterred them — making it our widest ever student survey.

Key findings

  • The younger that students decide higher education is for them, the more likely they are to go to a ‘higher tariff’ university.
  • Nearly half (49%) thought the entry requirements to these universities were too high – more would have applied if they had known they had a chance of getting in.
  • 41% believed none of these universities offered the courses they were interested in – there was a lack of understanding of career pathways from ‘academic sounding’ degree courses.

Find out more about the survey and the latest insights

Non-A level progression routes

Our work across the sector tells us that non-A level progression routes to higher education are much less well understood than the traditional GCSE/A level route.

Our first progression pathways project comprises a report (1.19 MB) and suite of materials aimed at students, advisers, and providers, to support a better understanding of the advantages and issues related to non-academic progression pathways – including vocational and technical qualifications and apprenticeships. 

Progression pathways resources

Alternative pathways through higher education

In June 2017, we published a second progression pathways report – this time, looking into alternative pathways through higher education, and focusing on four important routes offering flexible ways of gaining higher level skills, often by combining study and work. These pathways support widening participation and access, offering an alternative to a three-year, full-time degree. 

Progression Pathways 2017: Pathways through higher education examines foundation years and degrees with foundation years, foundation degrees, Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas, and higher and degree apprenticeships.

The report highlights that universities and colleges cater for an incredibly diverse population of students, but there is a lack of awareness and understanding of the different forms of higher education, and how they differ from traditional undergraduate degrees.

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.


We've developed toolkits with information and advice to help support under-represented groups applying to higher education.

Products and services that support widening participation

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

Our data services include:


STROBE (Standardised Tracking of Outcomes with Benchmarking and Evaluation) is a service developed by UCAS in 2014. It supports the evaluation of widening 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 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

Find out more about STROBE (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(new for this cycle), 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

Our contextual data service includes historic data, going back to 2008, about an applicant’s school or college – supplied by education departments across the UK. It also provides local area data in the form of POLAR2, POLAR3, POLAR 4(new for this cycle), and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD). It’s free for UCAS members and can be used to assess an applicant’s prior attainment, and potential to succeed in light of their circumstances. 

What can I expect to receive from this service?

We've created this flyer (148.48 KB) to help you understand our contextual data service, and how it can help you. It covers everything, from what data is available and where it comes from, to when it’s available and how to access it.

How do I register for this free service?

Providers who want to access this service have to be a UCAS member,. They must inform applicants if they are accessing the data, and how it is used in the admissions process. For more information and to register, please email

Once registered, how do I access this data?

  • If you’re a UCAS Undergraduate provider – contextual data is available to you through odbc-link (cvRefSchoolContextualData), xml-link (getUCASApplicantContextualData), and the reference information in web-link.
  • If you’re a UCAS Conservatoires provider – contextual data is available to you through odbc-link (cvRefSchoolContextualData), xml-link (getCUKASApplicantContextualData), and the reference information in web-link.

We’ve created a  step-by-step guide (266.8 KB)  on how to access contextual data through web-link. More information on how to access contextual data through the link products is available in the system guides on

Modernised contextualised data service

For the 2018 admissions cycle, we worked with a small number of universities to test the feasibility of using a new way of contextualising admissions. This used the principles behind our multiple equality measure (MEM) to code applications by representation level.

Following its success, for the 2019 cycle, all providers are invited to opt in to this service, which will run alongside our existing contextual data service.

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. 

How do I register for this service?

You can sign up to this service at any point throughout the 2019 cycle. However, to get the most out of it, we advise you do this sooner rather than later. To find out more and register your interest, please email

If you decide to sign up, you will then be invited to a welcome webinar, where we’ll provide an overview of the service, and answer any questions you may have.

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

Participating providers will receive daily 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 Apply

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.
  • MASIS (the Mobility And Support Information Service) – a charity which provides advice about access and inclusivity for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions.
  • 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 the Office for Students (OfS), which is responsible for regulating fair access and participation in England. Their good practice advice on the preparation of access and participation plans for 2019/20 includes updated information about target groups, including estranged students, care leavers, carers, disabled students, mature students, refugees, children from military families, and students from different ethnic groups.

UCAS is a member of the Fair Education Alliance – 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.

Our work with the FEA

  • UCAS works in partnership with charities and other sector organisations to provide advice and resources for under-represented groups, and to support students’ individual needs. As part of this work, we have also produced a factsheet in conjunction with the FEA about what contextualised admissions might mean for student applications. (See the 'Contextualised admissions' section above.)
  • UCAS has also worked with the FEA to produce its report 'Putting fairness in context: using data to widen access to higher education’. The report researches how contextual data is used, and makes recommendations on how to ensure providers have access to, and use, contextual data in ways to make access to higher education in the UK fairer. 
  • UCAS has published a blog for the FEA to introduce our STROBE service, which supports the evaluation of widening 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.
  • The FEA has released a collection of essays entitled Building a World Leading Education System that is Fair, to which UCAS' former CEO, Mary Curnock Cook, contributed a piece entitled 'Securing equity and access to higher education – What more needs to be done?'.

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 Carys Fisher, Senior Policy Executive, at

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