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Durham University

Department of Sociology

Research Projects

Publication details

Boliver, V., Crawford, C., Powell, M. & Craige, W. (2017). Admissions in Context: The use of contextual information by leading universities. London, Sutton Trust.

Author(s) from Durham


While the university access gap between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers
has narrowed somewhat in recent years, the gap at the most selective universities remains
stubbornly wide. Contextualised admissions – taking into account a candidate’s background when
making decisions on whom to admit – is one way through which universities may be able to make
greater progress towards narrowing these gaps.

Analysis of information made available via university websites during the 2016-17 academic year
by a group of the UK’s most selective universities, the Sutton Trust (ST) 30, indicates that a
majority of these universities use contextual data to inform their admissions processes. Four types
of contextual indicators are commonly used: individual-level, area-level, school-level, and
participation in outreach programmes. Individual indicators, such as having been in receipt of free
school meals, are the least commonly used. Participation in widening access programmes is the
most common contextual indicator used, with two-thirds of ST30 universities reporting that they
take this into account, although this is often restricted to programmes run by the same institution.

Department of Sociology