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Equal Opportunities to Higher Education in the UK

This following information comes from the website of the University of Aberdeen.

Universities in the UK   have a long standing commitment to widening access to higher education. A key part of this commitment is the University’s Contextualized Admissions and Access Thresholds Policy. They are keen to encourage students from the widest possible range of backgrounds to participate in university studies, and we appreciate that not all students have the same opportunity to meet the entry requirements.

For this reason universities take “contextualized information” into account when making decisions on the applications they receive and the exact grades they might require in any given case. Applicants who meet the criteria may be made an offer of admission at or below the relevant access threshold level.  The University can check if an applicant meets some of the criteria listed below using the information that is supplied in the UCAS form. Where possible applicants should include information about any circumstances they would like to highlight in their Personal Statement, or alternatively ask their referee to include relevant information in the Reference. If an applicant cannot include contextual information in the personal statement, they can send a separate document, which details these circumstances, to the University’s Admissions Service. Any additional information, which is supplied to the University in a clear and timely manner, will be considered alongside the main application. Applicants must include their full name and UCAS ID number in all correspondence with the University. The University would also ask that, where possible, referees mention and verify if an applicant meets one or more of the Widening Participation criteria in their UCAS reference.

What follows is a list of definitions and other information that you can use to check if you meet the other widening access criteria:

  • Unpaid Caring Role:“A carer is anyone who cares, unpaid, for a friend or family member who due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction cannot cope without their support” (Carers Trust). If you provide an unpaid caring role please tell us about this in your personal statement or via a supplementary document (please see below for more information on supplementary documents).
  • Estranged Students:Applicants and Students who have no contact, and receive no support, from their families are referred to as being “Estranged”. Applicants and students, in order to qualify under these criteria, will have to have been estranged from their families for a sustained period of time (at least a 12 month period). They will also have to be expecting to receive no support from their extended family during their time at University.
  • Gypsy, Roma or Travelling Community:If you identify as belonging to the Gypsy, Roma or Travelling Community please let us know in your personal statement or via a supplementary document. Please note that although you can self-identify as coming from a Gypsy, Roma or Travelling Community in the Equality and Diversity section of your UCAS form, the University does not receive this information during the recruitment cycle. Therefore it is essential that if you wish this information to be considered as part of your application that you inform us using one of the methods described above.
  • First generation in family to attend University: If neither of your parents have attended a University (either as school leavers or mature students) then you will be classified as “first in family” or “first generation”. Please let us know if you meet this criteria in either your personal statement or in a supplementary document.
  • Free school meal entitlement: If you were in receipt of free school whilst you were at secondary school then please let us know in either your personal statement or via a supplementary document.
  • Education Maintenance Allowance:If you were in receipt of Education Maintenance Allowance, whilst you were at secondary school, then please let us know in either your personal statement or via a supplementary document.
  • Mental Health Issues: If a personal Mental Health issue has impacted negatively on your education in the senior phase (or throughout the majority of your secondary education) then please let us know in either your personal statement or via a supplementary document.
  • Physical Health Issue: If a personal Physical Health issue has impacted negatively on your education in the senior phase (or throughout the majority of your secondary education) then please let us know in either your personal statement or via a supplementary document.
  • Refugee / Asylum status (Scottish/ EU fee status):If you have been granted Refugee / Asylum status (and you meet the criteria for Home Fees (Scottish / EU)) then please indicate this in your UCAS application form. If you have any questions about your current residential status please contact the Admissions Team.
  • Refugee / Asylum status ( Rest of UK fee status): If you have been granted Refugee / Asylum status (and you meet the criteria for Rest of UK fees) then please indicate this in your UCAS application form. If you have any questions about your current residential statuses, please contact the Admissions team.
  • Applicants whose parent(s) have had a custodial sentence: If either of your parents had (or have a current) custodial sentence then please let us know in either your personal statement or via a supplementary document.

If this description applies to you please check the appropriate box on your online UCAS form to say that you have experience of being in care. You can also inform us by mentioning it in your UCAS personal statement or via a supplementary document.

What is contextual data and information?

Contextual data includes educational, geodemographic, and socio-economic background data, such as historic data about an applicant’s school or college. Contextual information relates to individual applicant circumstances, such as if they have been in care, or involved in widening participation activities. Contextual data and information can be used to assess an applicant’s prior attainment and potential, in the context of their individual circumstances.

What is our role as Academic Consultants in this?

As a teacher or Consultant, it’s important to be aware of this practice, so we can give the best advice to our students. A contextualized admission encourages aspirational applications, and may also help explain why a student has received a certain offer.

What practical steps can we take to help?

  • Encourage our students to complete all the relevant application fields in full. The contextual information submitted on the UCAS application is critical to facilitating contextualized admissions.
  • Use the reference to indicate any further contextual information which might warrant special consideration. This could include individual circumstances – e.g. mature student, disability, widening participation activities, or information about your school which may affect performance, such as significant staff changes, or damage to buildings.

What might this mean for our students’ university applications? 

“Contextualized admissions” can be used at different stages of the application process, as part of holistic assessment to:

  • target students for widening participation activities
  • inform a decision, including inviting them for interview, contextual offers, and ‘near miss’ applicants at Confirmation
  • identify applicants who may need additional support
  • help assess applicants’ eligibility for financial support

The use of contextual information and data in admissions can be an effective tool in identifying applicants with the greatest potential to succeed in higher education.

Evidence shows that students from disadvantaged backgrounds do at least as well, and sometimes better, in degree attainment, than comparable groups of more advantaged students.

With additional services available – from help with finance, to study skills, and accommodation – many universities provide support throughout the student experience. It is so important students are aware of all the support they’re entitled to.

Goldsmiths, University of London as well as Warwick University are both part of the programme “Realising Opportunities” (RO) along with 12 other leading universities. This is a national programme giving eligible students support during their post-16 studies.  Students are given a dedicated ‘e-mentor’ – a current university student who will guide them through an interactive support programme. Activities include university visits and student conferences, to help them make informed decisions about their futures.

According to information deriving from Goldsmiths, University of London, the university provides a portfolio of funding options based on contextual data. Jennifer Geary, Head of Admissions, said: “We provide a number of support services for students from underrepresented groups, which include fee waivers for students from the local London boroughs, bursaries to cover travel costs for students from low income backgrounds, and scholarships for disabled students, mature students, care leavers, and applicants coming from Access to HE programmes”.

‘There are well-established channels for students to access support while they are on their programmes and a process for assessing and supporting specific needs.’ (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Warwick University runs a wide range of events and activities for young people aged between nine and 19, targeted at state school-educated students, students who would be the first in their family to attend university, students from low socio-economic backgrounds, and students who come from neighbourhoods where there is low progression to higher education. Kim Eccleston, Head of Admissions at Warwick, said: ‘Using the information available to us through the application process, allows us to contact applicants and students with information about our specific services available to them at Warwick.’

The “Access to Bristol programme” provides local students with an unprecedented opportunity to experience life at Bristol University. ‘Our activities are wide-ranging, from working with students from primary school age, to those who may have left the classroom decades ago’, said Doug Jennings,UK Student Recruitment Manager at Bristol, ‘and much of our outreach work is targeted at those who are eligible for a contextual offer.