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  • Contextual Admissions Posted on 15 January 2014

    Over a third of universities use some form of contextual admissions and its use is growing.  Contextual admissions is vital if we are to achieve a more equal society – bright pupils should not be excluded from higher education just because they did not have access to education and opportunities than their more advantaged peers.  I have long been supportive of contextual admissions but only if it is clear it identifies those with the potential to succeed at the highest levels.  When I introduced Access to Leeds (which now sees over 400 students registering a year) it was important to identify those who were the brightest and best but who also could not demonstrate it by their grades alone.  Access to Leeds enabled us to identify young people who invariably went on to outperform their peers who came through in more traditional routes. 

    SPA (Supporting Professionalism in Admissions) released their research report ‘Contextualised admissions: examining the evidence’ in October 2013.  It supports the use of contextual admissions and wishes to encourage greater sharing of best practice. 

    Their report shows the multitude of approaches taken by universities, from using the data to support highly individualised decision making, to highlight individuals, to prioritise individuals or to make different offers.  And those individuals can be identified by a range of measures and combinations – using institution specific or nationally available data. 

    Within all this transparency is critical – schools and students need to know what is being applied and how; internally universities need to understand the outcomes and publicise them (that’s how I managed to grow my scheme – by showing it works).

    I’ve always argued that we should establish a few definitions for all schemes to fall under – so schools and students will then know what will happen.  If it is ‘type A’ let’s say ‘Flagging’ they know that their socio-economic and educational factors are being used to let the admissions tutor know they need a second look.  If it is ‘type C’, let’s say ‘Alternative Entry’ they know they may be given two offers – one that involves further work to demonstrate their potential but the opportunity to have a lower A-level offer.  It’s a little easier to understand– you don’t have to be an expert in tens of schemes. 

    While we need to recognise institutional difference and autonomy higher education does need to come together – we need common and trusted datasets that we can use, common terminology, and common elements to our internal research (enabling national pictures to be understood).  I hope SPA takes the lead.


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