HEIs have been using additional data to supplement the stated qualifications and entry criteria when considering applications for many years. The use of this additional or 'contextual' data was given further impetus with the publication of the Schwartz report in 2004 and more recently with policy initiatives of Governments across the UK
SPA has undertaken extensive research in the current use of contextualised admissions and published the findings and reports. We have also issued updates to the sector with the latest developments in policy and practice.
Contextualised admissions is data used by universities and colleges which puts attainment in the context of the circumstances in which it has been obtained; currently mainly educational, geo-demographic and socio-economic background data.
For example: Applicants for full-time undergraduate courses through UCAS will self declare some contextual data or contextual information as part of their application for example if they have been in care or have a disability or they have taken part in widening participation activities such as summer schools. Other data used may be from publicly available data sets such as government school performance data or young participation in HE rates by neighbourhood data (Polar 2) that the university or college sources or that may come from via UCAS from publicly available sources or from commercial datasets.
The SPA research project published in 2012 highlighted the variety of data used to inform fair admissions and outlined three approaches that can be used for young applicants (under 21):
Contextual data from data fields in applications, or data linked to application data field. This may include the use of the initial data provided from public sources via UCAS or from commercial or other sources (government departments/ agencies). Flagging or coding is often employed by universities and colleges.
Contextual information gained through assessment of information about applicant circumstances e.g. from personal statement, reference, additional questionnaire and local knowledge of schools and colleges.
Contextualisation through activity participation (e.g. compact schemes, summer schools), where the targeting and identification occurs prior to the application to HE stage.
The contextual data items provided via UCAS are covered in the first download below.