‘The time for contextualised admissions is absolutely now’, says Ucas chief

Ucas will, for first time this year, share free school meals status information with providers

Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant has called for universities to make more contextual offers in 2020 and beyond.

Addressing an audience of key sector figures on day two of the Fifth Festival of Higher Education, Ms Marchant said that in the aftermath of Covid-19 and the subsequent arrival of calculated grades, the need for contextual decisions had become “ever more paramount”.

She added that Ucas will, for first time this year, share free school meals (FSM) status information with providers.

“One of the things I would like to see is much more use of contextual data.”

“If the last few months have taught us one thing it is that we must digitise and give advice in a very personalised way to those applicants – the time for contextualised admissions, for personalised information and advice, is absolutely now.”

She added that “I am a great fan of contextual information – but not instead of, but complementary to, your qualifications.”

Last week, universities minister Michelle Donelan drew criticism following her speech to the NEON summit, in which she spoke of universities feeling “pressured to dumb down – either when admitting students, or in the standards of their courses” – comments which were interpreted by Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union (UU), as an attack on contextual offers and widening participation.

Ms Marchant also said that since Clearing opened on Monday 6 July, Ucas’s new Clearing Plus tool – which suggests matches for unplaced students – had put half of providers in touch with nearly 1,000 students in the first 48 hours.

She also warned providers that student confidence would remain fragile in the run-up to the autumn term, due to fears surrounding local lockdowns and second spikes.

Last week, a professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter called on highly-selective universities to offer more ambitious contextual offers to students from widening participation backgrounds. Prof Anna Mountford-Zimdars said that during clearing, providers routinely offer places to candidates with grades below the stated admission requirements; this last-minute lowering of entry standards demonstrated that courses could consider a wider pool of applicants earlier in the application cycle, she added.

You might also like: Contextual offers from elite universities too conservative, says OfS

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