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Durham University


Fair access and excellent education for all

Fair Access at Durham University

At Durham University we are focused on providing the very best education and empowering our students to succeed. We welcome students from all backgrounds with merit and potential and we have robust systems in place to ensure our admissions process is fair and transparent.

Access Agreement 2019-20

Our new Access Agreement 2019-20 agreed by the Office for Students (OfS) reaffirms our commitment to widening participation in higher education. We are proud to be investing £11.7million in outreach, student success, progression and evaluation activities over the year. The agreement outlines a number of current initiatives - such as offering summer schools and developing partnerships with regional schools and academies - as well as new initiatives aimed at enrolling students from under-represented backgrounds and supporting them while they are here. Examples include:

  • Expanding the number of students on our flagship Supported Progression Scheme, using campus-based programs and projects to strengthen disadvantaged students in the transition from school to university;
  • Using contextual admissions to enable students with potential to attend Durham, including varying entry grade requirements by one or two grades to take account of disadvantage in the context of achievement;

Enabling students to thrive

A Durham education is built on three principles; innovative teaching, a research-led curriculum and a vibrant wider student experience. Our admissions and access teams ensure that every admitted student has the potential to succeed. The decisions we make are research-led, data-driven and specific to the individual. On arrival at Durham, we work hard to ensure that every student thrives personally, intellectually and professionally.

Widening participation through contextualised admissions – research by Durham University academics

Research on contextualised admissions, led by Durham University academic, Professor Vikki Boliver, provides an important contribution to national debates about how best to ensure fair access to higher education. The research highlights the correlation between socioeconomic background and school achievement, and makes the case for considering applicants’ qualifications in light of their socioeconomic circumstances to ensure that the potential of disadvantaged applicants is not overlooked.

Read the essay which makes the case for a more radical approach to contextualised admissions.

Read the Sutton Trust report, ‘Admissions in Context’.

Read the report Mapping and Evaluating the Use of Contextual Data in Undergraduate Admissions in Scotland’.

A commitment to fair access

These complex and challenging matters sit at the heart of fair access. Addressing them, in consultation with regional and national stakeholders, requires careful assessment of both applicants and institution to ensure that those with the potential to thrive are given the opportunity to do so. Durham University is committed to that goal. Our new Access Agreement marks a step-change in our approach.

HESA Performance Indicators

Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) published in February 2018 shows that the percentage of young full-time first degree students from state schools commencing study at Durham University increased from 60.5% in 2015/16 to 62.9% in 2016/17, and the percentage of young full-time first degree students from low participation neighbourhoods increased from 5.1% in 2015/16 to 5.2% in 2016/17.

We welcome the progress demonstrated by these Performance Indicators and in consultation with our partners we will build on progress we have made to date through experience, data and research.

Professor Alan Houston, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), Durham University