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Contextualised admissions in the competitive environment Applicant Experience in Wales SPA event - 4 J une 2014 Janet Graham, Director of SPA. External policy drivers impacting admissions 1.

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Contextualised admissions in the competitive environmentApplicant Experience in Wales SPA event - 4 June 2014Janet Graham, Director of SPA

external policy drivers impacting admissions 1
External policy drivers impacting admissions 1
    • New competitive market place - looking for efficiencies and new USPs for quality of offering and service, while enhancing access for disadvantaged students and ensuring fair admissions
  • Increasing competition between HEIs, and with HE in FE and new independent providers, UK plc: global competition, league tables
  • Changes and developments to the Pre-HE curriculum - GCSEs, A/AS level reform, Welsh Bac - other changes round the UK
  • QAA UK Quality Code - Chapter B2 covers admission
external policy drivers impacting admissions 2
External policy drivers impacting admissions 2
    • UCAS changes - to admissions process and UCAS Tariff
    • Issues round advice and guidance for potential students
    • Student number controls deregulation in England - impact UK wide
    • Tuition fees and student finance - policy varies round UK
    • Push for fair access and widening access
    • Demographics - Fewer young applicants until 2020
  • HE providers recruit UK-wide, changing patterns of behaviour by HE
institutional challenges in admissions
Institutional Challenges in Admissions
  • Meeting targets for both student numbers and under-represented groups – getting the right balance
  • Good record keeping, IT systems for admissions data analysis and market intelligence
  • Managing change - planning, admissions and student recruitment working together
  • Implementing policy -Tracking and Evaluating: in-house, UCAS Strobe
  • Quality of the applicant and student experience including pre-entry engagement, information and guidance and learning support
  • Promotion of academic success - access, transition, retention, employability
fair admissions in a competitive landscape
Fair admissions in a competitive landscape

Competition between HE providers is growing.

There is an increasing need to seek out students with potential from a wider range of backgrounds.

what is contextualised admissions
What is contextualised admissions?
  • Contextualised admissions is defined as contextual information and contextual data used by HE providers to assess an applicant’s prior attainment and potential to succeed in higher education in the context of the circumstances in which their attainment has been obtained.
  • SPAs Report:
why is contextual data used

Academic Excellence



Increase applicant pool

External policy drivers

Diversity as pedagogical value

Fair admissions

“We are very aware of the differences out there, and it’s obvious when students come to study with us that the brightest sparks do not always come with the best grades.”

Why is contextual data used?
fair admissions in a competitive landscape1
Fair admissions in a competitive landscape
  • So does this mean moving away from academic rigor and high standards? No.
  • It is about supporting the delivery of fair admissions and maintaining high academic standards.
  • It is about seeking excellence by identifying the ‘best’ applicants with the greatest potential and likelihood of a successful degree outcome.

Evidence 1: What matters for measuring academic potential?

Scientific ‘Gold standard’: good, individual-level data


Data availability

Expertise and cost

Limitations (often young, UK domiciled HE applicants)

Outreach or / and admissions

evidence 2 same grades same potential

Students from different types of school perform differently.

In the majority of research, those from state schools outperform independent school students or those from poorer performing schools outperform those from higher performing schools

(Oxford, Bristol, Cardiff, HEFCE, Scottish institution)

This is not confirmed in one case study where school did not affect degree results


Studies use different ways of thinking about and measuring disadvantage as well as attainment.

Evidence 2: Same grades same potential
evidence 3 positive progress where students admitted using contextual data

Positive benefits for individual providers (recruitment, conversions, PIs)

“…can only work if you get the applicants…. to do that you have to change the perception that the university is ‘not for me’.”

Comparative research into performance of contextualised students supports the approach

Research into outcomes achieved by WP outreach groups confirms performance (e.g. PARTNERS, LEAPS)

Building commitment to those who enter

Evidence 3: Positive progress where students admitted using contextual data
evidence 4 transferring evidence into practice
Evidence 4: Transferring evidence into practice

‘Formal’ application of contextual data into holistic decision making

‘F’ – flagging; ‘T’ – triangulation; ‘‘A’ – adjusting scores (i.e. calculating adjusted grades to reflect relative performance as well as using actual grades).

‘I’ –highly likely or guaranteed interview; GO –guaranteed offer;

AO/MO–adjusted offer on individual basis/ modified offer - at lower end of range


Contextual data for HEPs, free, via UCAS for 2014

  • Socio-Economic Background
  • % of students entitled to free school meals by School (historical data only by Local Authority)
  • % of students entitled to EMA (not England)
  • Lives in a low progression to higher education neighbourhood (POLAR 2 and POLAR 3) derived from postcode
  • SIMD Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SFC version)
  • Supplied by UCAS, if universities and colleges sign up to take it.
  • Educational Background
  • School performance: % of students achieving 5+ GCSEs A*-C including English and Maths (or equivalent in Scotland)
  • Average point score by school “best 8” GCSEs (or Standard grade SCQF level 4equivalent performance)
  • mean QCA points per A level and per student (or equivalent in Scotland)

Basket of Data

useful practices

Using multiple datasets

Dealing with missing data (N.B. standardisation)

Using multiple indicators


Checking information - particularly self declared, e.g. follow up ‘in-care’

Using ranked data for decision making

Using additional information for marginal decisions

Useful practices
from the report to practice

Use of contextual data and information aligned to strategic mission

Contextual data can be a helpful part of holistic admissions

Senior management buy-in and pro-active support

Good record keeping

Linked systems for widening participation, admission, planning, student progression, graduation and beyond – student lifecycle

Create / use HEI own ‘baseline’ evidence base

From the report to practice:
from the report to practice1

Know what data is out there and how to use it

Appropriately trained staff

Transparency about how and when contextual data is used

Integrated approach to outreach/WP and admissions

and ideally to support the student experience, retention, and graduation

‘Access without support is not opportunity’

If possible, sharing of expertise, creation of a comparative evidence-base

From the report to practice:
strategic importance of contextualised admissions
Strategic importance of contextualised admissions:

Facilitates reaching targets

Helps identify applicants who may benefit from additional support

Supports the applicant experience

Improves calibre of entrants through identifying potential

Widens participation and enhances diversity of the student body

Could aid social mobility

Helps delivery of fair admissions

Helps assess applicants for financial support

janet graham director of spa tel 01242 544919 email j graham@spa ac uk
Janet Graham, Director of SPA

Tel 01242 544919 email: [email protected]

Thank you