University part of major report to help people with potential access higher education

The University of Manchester has contributed to a new report which examines how data involving applicants’ backgrounds and personal circumstances can be used to help them gain a place and realise their potential.

The report ‘Research into use of contextual data in admissions’ is released today by the Fair Education Alliance, based on research by the University of Exeter. The University of Manchester will also be represented on the panel at the event.

The report contains several recommendations for the use of ‘contextual data’, which includes time spent in care, where applicants live and the overall performance of their schools.

It calls for more support of the use of that data and more research into the outcomes of students admitted in this way. It also contains several examples of how The University of Manchester is using the data to widen participation to higher education.

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.”

At Manchester the data is used to flag up potential candidates with admissions tutors. They will take into account the fact that these applicants may not have had access to the same levels of advice or extra-curricular activity as their peers. This can be done either when looking at the personal statements or during the interview process.

In some cases, such as people who have been in care prior to application or from schools where attainment is below the national average, this may result in a reduction of the grades required to gain entry to courses. The use of contextual data in this way recognises the extra distance travelled by such students and the fact that they are more likely to be under-predicted than students from more advantaged backgrounds.

Manchester has the highest number of students from low-income backgrounds, with around 1,500 students from homes with incomes below £25k entering the University each year. About a third of new UK undergraduates receive financial support through the means-tested Manchester Bursary.

If we find different ways of identifying people’s potential, aside from their grades, they can flourish at university. That is why we welcome the findings of this report.
Stephanie Lee, Head of Widening Participation and Outreach

On the panel at today’s launch event will be Stephanie Lee, Head of Widening Participation at The University of Manchester. Stephanie said: “We know that some students don’t have the same opportunities as others and this makes it more difficult to gain a place, particularly at high-tariff universities. Our research – highlighted in this report – shows that once given the opportunity, these students continue to develop and the value-added can be significant.

“It is clear then that if we find different ways of identifying people’s potential, aside from their grades, they can flourish at university. That is why we welcome the findings of this report.”

More information on The University of Manchester’s use of contextual data can be found on our website. You can also read more about widening participation activities at The University of Manchester.

The full report can be found on the Fair Education Alliance website.

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