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UCAS responds to our recent report on contextual admissions

  • 27 August 2019

This guest blog has been kindly written for us by David Best, Director of Analysis and Insights at UCAS

UCAS has been providing school and area-level contextual data (e.g. POLAR3) to universities for over a decade. So we were delighted to see students’ views expressed in the recent HEPI Report mirror those of our own survey data, which have shown that many students agree that individual circumstances should be taken into account during the admissions process. The report’s recommendation that “institutions should build greater confidence in contextual admissions with the use of more individual-level criteria” is particularly relevant because of our recent introduction of the modernised contextual data service (MCDS) – a relatively new UCAS offering that runs parallel to our existing contextual data service, supplying universities and colleges with individual-level, data-driven contextual information.

At the heart of MCDS is the multiple equality measure (MEM). The MEM uses statistical modelling techniques to quantify exactly how much an individual’s background circumstance (as measured by the combination of sex, POLAR3, ethnic group, IMD, FSM status and school type) impacts their likelihood of entering higher education. The output is a simple 1-5 group value, with those in group 1 the most disadvantaged in terms of their likelihood to enter university, and those in group 5 the most advantaged. The modelling approach is based on over 10 years of UCAS’ data on HE entry. It only identifies the effects that are evidenced in the data, and the use of multiple applicant background characteristics ensures that MEM offers a higher-level of granularity than that achieved by other measures. UCAS has been reporting on MEM for several years, and have published trends going back to 2006 and, for the past two cycles has been supplying providers with the MEM group of applicants (modified to remove restricted characteristics, such as ethnic group) at an individual-level, through the MCDS, for use in contextual admissions.

Using the principles behind MEM, UCAS have been working on improvements to, and additional statistics to be included in, the MCDS. We have seen a growing uptake of the service among providers, and intend to continue supplying the service for the 2020 applicant cycle. UCAS fully supports the use of more individual-level contextual data, and it is our hope that data-driven measures, such as the MEM, are used more widely in the years to come, becoming staples of contextual admissions processes.

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