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SPA's work on contextualised admissions
One of SPA's strategic aims is to lead on fair admissions and to support fair access and social mobility. We are working throughout the UK with higher education (HE) providers, government departments, HE stakeholders, UCAS and organisations to keep them informed about progress with developments in the use of contextual data and information as part of HE admissions decision making.
SPA has undertaken extensive research on the use of contextualised admissions. Click on the links below for more information.
Surveys on the use of contextualised admissions in the UK
The use of triangulation of data in Contextualised Admissions
Scottish National Expert Think Tank on Contextualised Admissions
Contextualised Admissions: Examining the Evidence report (2013)
Fair Admissions to Higher Education: Research report (2012)
SPA carried out surveys on the use of contextualised admissions in universities and colleges in 2011, 2013 and 2015. The survey results show that more HE providers are using, and want to use, contextualised admissions with robust data sources to support fair admissions, fair access and widening participation. In the 2015 survey, 84% (57 HEPs) of those responding were contextualised admissions in the 2015 undergraduate cycle, with a further six planning or considering its use in future cycles.
Contextualised admissions aims to form a more complete picture of the characteristics of an individual applicant. The aim of triangulation is to mitigate the risks associated with using neighbourhood and school measures, by combining data from several sources, and allows for a more nuanced consideration of contextual data and information. This briefing was produced following discussions in Scotland (following SPA’s Scottish National Expert Think Tank - see below) and gives more detail as to how this can work in practice in HE providers.
In 2013-14 SPA was funded by the Scottish Funding Council to work with universities in Scotland to enhance understanding and development of contextualised admissions. SPA convened a Scottish National Expert Think Tank (SNETT) that brought together expert practitioners from Scottish higher education providers, with experience in admissions, recruitment and widening access activities. Although the group's primary focus was particular to Scotland, these resources have been designed to be of benefit to all HE providers throughout the UK.
- Considerations for introducing and implementing contextualised admissions - designed to support institutions who are introducing/implementing new CA processes, including questions to consider, guidance on building a case for CA and rolling out a CA process, and FAQs about contextualised admissions.
- Contextualised admissions: What are the data needs in HE providers? - outlining what data is available and who's using it, approaches to missing data, the benefits of triangulating data and findings from a 'data day' in which SNETT member institutions showcased their own data systems and approaches
- Hints and tips for monitoring and evaluating contextualised admissions - for ensuring that all policies and procedures related to a CA process can be appropriately monitored and reviewed.
SNETT briefing on introducing and implementing contextualised admissions SNETT briefing on the contextual data needs in HE providers SNETT hints and tips for monitoring and evaluating contextualised admissions
This report for SPA, issued on the 18 October 2013, brought together the widest evidence base so far for the use of contextual information and data in admissions of UK students to undergraduate courses. This includes research and in-house analysis at HE providers, national research and academic studies.
The report highlights:
- Contextual information and data is playing an increasing role in strengthening fair admissions and access at all stages of the admissions process.
- The considerable challenges that still face the sector in widening access and fair admissions are highlighted.
- The balance of evidence shows that students from disadvantaged backgrounds do at least as well as and, in some providers, better in degree attainment than comparable groups of more advantaged students.
- More detailed research is needed which looks across the sector and comparatively at institutions.
- It remains important for HE providers to be transparent about their reasons for using contextual information and data in different ways.
The SPA researchers also compiled a list of articles, research and other resources on contextualised admissions and related areas.
Contextualised Admissions: Examining the Evidence report 2013 Annex A: Stakeholders included in the research Annex B: SPA principles of the use of contextual data in admissions Annex C: Comments on indicators and data sources Annex D: Widening participation performance indicators for higher education Annex E: Published research into higher education potential - critical case studies Annex F: Approaches used to provide information on students' attainment on entry to the higher education provider Annex G: Approaches used to defining outcome measures Annex H: Points of use for contextual data Annex I: Useful practices to support data reliability
Fair Admissions to Higher Education: Research to describe the use of contextual data in admissions at a sample of universities and colleges in the UK (2012)
SPA's first research report in 2012 provided a detailed examination of current practices in the use of contextual data across the HE sector in the UK. It encompassed both desk and field based research with 17 institutions participating in the research from across the UK. It considered the application of contextual data in the delivery of admissions processes in order to gain an overview of the use, purpose, methodologies and impact of its use; where it is being used effectively and to identify transferability of practice; what potential impact it could have on fair admissions and social mobility.