Below are some examples of how providers are using contextual admissions which you may find helpful when developing your own approaches. Some of these approaches may not yet be fully evaluated.
We will update this page with more examples of effective practice as we identify them.
If you have, or are aware of, examples of effective practice in this area please contact [email protected].
University of Bristol: An evolving approach
The University of Bristol has made contextual offers since 2009. Accepted students are automatically offered a lower grade if they:
- attend a state school in the bottom 40 per cent for attainment
- live in POLAR3 quintiles 1 or 2
- have completed a University of Bristol outreach event
- have spent time in care.
In 2016, the university admitted 1,000 students on such offers. Although the students are not offered any additional targeted support once admitted, research has shown that students admitted to Bristol with one grade lower than the entry requirements do just as well as, if not better than, those admitted on the standard offer.
A recent initiative, the Bristol Scholars programme, expands on this work by targeting local students with the potential to succeed at university.
Of the 43 students on the pilot year, 40 per cent had received free school meals. Students on the programme receive offers of up to four grades lower than the standard offer and are given support before and after application.
Lady Margaret Hall: Foundation years
Since 2016, Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford, has extended lower entry offers (alongside an essay and interview test) for a foundation year designed to prepare disadvantaged students for university.
Although there is no guarantee of a place at Oxford at the end of the course, the admission rate compares favourably with other foundation years, and a preliminary report suggests that students are more confident and comfortable when entering their first year of an undergraduate degree.
Scottish universities: Two tariffs
In 2016, the Scottish government set challenging targets for universities to admit:
- 16 per cent of students from Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) 20 areas by 2021
- 20 per cent of students from these areas by 2030.
Universities, including the most selective, have responded by publishing two tariffs:
- one for the standard offer
- a second for students who are contextually flagged, of up to three grades lower in the Scottish Higher exams.
This minimum threshold reflects the grades required to meet the academic standards of the course, and should therefore mitigate against a fall in degree performance.
This shift has helped universities make impressive gains quickly. For example, the University of Edinburgh saw places accepted by students from SIMD20 jump from 7.3 per cent in 2016-17 to 11 per cent in 2018-19. St Andrews increased the number of disadvantaged students fivefold to 10.3 per cent of its Scottish intake in 2018.