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Durham University

Department of Sociology

Completed Projects

Mapping and evaluating the use of contextual data in undergraduate admissions in Scotland

A research project of the Department of Sociology.


Scottish Funding Council – Impact for Access Fund


The use of contextual data to inform undergraduate admissions decision-making has been widely advocated in recent years, reflecting a growing acceptance of the idea that “it is fair and appropriate to consider contextual factors as well as formal educational achievement, given the variation in learners’ opportunities and circumstances”. Many UK universities currently employ contextual data to help them decide which applicants to shortlist, interview, make standard or reduced offers to, or accept at confirmation as ‘near-misses’. But while contextualised admissions policies represent a potentially powerful means of addressing the persistent under-representation of students from less advantaged backgrounds in higher education, universities may be uncertain about which indicators of context to use and many have voiced concerns about the validity and reliability of the contextual data available to them. Universities also face the challenge of developing contextual admissions policies that are justifiable in light of the evidence base – a challenge that is complicated by the mixed evidence regarding the performance in higher education of students from less advantaged contexts relative to more advantaged students with comparable qualifications on entry. Against this backdrop, this project combines case study research to map current uses of contextual data in admissions at Scottish universities with statistical analysis of large datasets to develop robust, evidence-based recommendations for good practice regarding the use of contextual data in undergraduate admissions.


From the Department of Sociology

From other departments