Putting fairness in context: using data to widen access to higher education
Children progressing through education do not all have the same chances of success. It is well-evidenced and widely recognised that parents’ income, the quality of school attended and myriad other background factors affect educational outcomes for young people. Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are recognising this problem and, since 2008, have been mandated to submit annual plans for how to contribute to solving this fundamental injustice. ‘Access agreements’ outline how each HEIs are investing in and working on widening participation. This is both to increase the diversity of their own student intakes and to increase the opportunities of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds more broadly. < Back
When it comes to increasing the diversity of student bodies, almost all HEIs have developed outreach programmes to raise awareness and aspirations. At a macro-level, these programmes appear to have had only marginal effects for the most selective universities, partly because such universities tend to have selection processes with high levels of competition and entry tariffs. They face a challenge in the fact that, compared to more affluent applicants, there is a much smaller pool of disadvantaged applicants that fulfil
the pre-set expectations, including the required grades. To overcome this challenge and to recognise the additional barriers disadvantaged young people face, many universities have undertaken new approaches within their admissions processes through contextualisation of applications.
This year (2018), the Fair Education Alliance has commissioned research into the use of contextual data
in admissions. The report ‘Research into use of contextual data in admissions’, produced by the Centre for Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, seeks to shine a light on how contextual data is used in practice at highly selective universities, and to make recommendations on how to ensure that institutions have access to and use contextual data in ways that will make access to higher education in the
The Fair Education Alliance is committed to closing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their wealthier peers regarding access to selective universities. We have drawn on the commissioned research to make our own calls-to-action for improving use of contextual data. We believe that these recommendations, if implemented, will improve access to university for disadvantaged young people and support the narrowing of that gap.