Effective practice advice
There is a growing consensus of the importance of using contextual admissions as a way to improve access to higher education for underrepresented groups, however limited evidence currently exists about what constitutes effective practice in this area.
We encourage providers to develop ambitious approaches to contextual admissions to diversify their student community and promote equality of opportunity.
Available research suggests the following:
1. Ensure that information about contextual admissions is accessible
Providers should ensure that clear and transparent contextual admissions information is available on their websites so that potential students can understand if they are eligible to receive a contextual offer.
A Further Education Alliance report explains that including ‘information for applicants on websites linking to course information and subject specific entry criteria is thought to be more effective than relying on general information because it is more like to play directly into applicants’ specific higher education choices’.
Several providers have already adopted this approach, including the University of Warwick and the University of Bristol, both of which publish their standard and contextualised entry requirements by course level.
2. Use individualised data
As far as possible, providers should use individualised data when making contextual offers.
UCAS provides applicants with the opportunity to declare contextual information - such as experience of the care system.
They offer two contextual data services for providers:
- Contextual data service: offering data and background information about an applicant’s school or college, and local area data in the form of POLAR3, and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD).
- Modernised contextualised data service: providing applicant-level data and insight into their individual circumstances. It includes an applicant’s Multiple Equality Measure (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.
3. Take a whole institution approach to support
Universities and colleges should take a ‘whole institution’ approach to supporting students admitted through a contextual admissions, using a range of interventions to support students throughout their studies to graduation.
This includes sustained engagement in school, support with applications, financial support, engagement through transition to university, targeted support during the course, and careers advice.
4. Evaluate policies
Providers should evaluate their contextual admissions policies to ensure that they are evidence-based and effective as a means of providing access to higher education for students from underrepresented groups.
Some providers have tracked students who entered through the contextual route and evaluated the impact their support and interventions have had on continuation and attainment.