Office For Students Calls on Universities to Look Beyond A Level Results

The Fair Education Alliance has issued a report (based on research from the University of Exeter) which calls on universities to improve the ways in which contextual data is used during the admissions process.

The CEO of the Fair Education Alliance Sam Butters said “We want to see change in widening participation within the most selective universities. We know that parents’ income, the quality of school attended and a myriad of other background factors affect educational outcomes for young people, including how well they do in their exams and their likelihood of progressing to Higher Education. Contextualised admissions are a way of overcoming this challenge and recognising the additional barriers disadvantaged young people face but we need some changes to how the practice is being used for it to be effective.”

The report’s authors observed how contextual data is used in practice at highly selective universities and the report focuses on how best practice can be shared across the sector, making access to education in the UK fairer.

The report’s findings include:

  • Many universities have undertaken new approaches to the admissions process, through ‘contextualisation’ in admissions processes; where data is matched to applicants 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.
  • The use of contextualised data in admissions has become increasingly more accepted over the last five years and the practice more widespread.
  • Although now widely accepted, contextualising admissions are applied in a wealth of ways across HEI’s; and it is often unclear to applicants exactly which practices are undertaken.
  • Currently a wide range of approaches are adopted by institutions to determine how ‘disadvantage’ is defined; with issues of inconsistencies across the UK and a problem of missing data.

Most critically the variety of contextual data sources and measures used is making it difficult for potential applicants and their advisers to assess where and how their chances might be enhanced, and the benefit of encouraging more applicants from non-traditional backgrounds is lost.

Recommendations by the OfS include:

•    Public buy-in and Office for Students (OfS) support for the practice
•    Improved access to relevant data for institutions
•    Accountability for institutions on relevant data measures
•    Increased transparency for applicants
•    Greater consistency around principles and terminology
•    Shared commitment to measuring impact on student outcomes

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