What do students think about contextual admissions? | HEPI / YouthSight Monitor Wave #6

Voting | 08 Aug 2019


In wave 6 of the HEPI / Youthsight Monitor we look into  contextual admissions and investigate what students really think about this offer-making process. 

Since 2015 we have been running a series of monitors with the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI). This latest monitor offers a student perspective on the highly debated topic of contextual admissions, as we loop students into the conversation for the first time.

What is a contextualised offer? 

A contextualised offer occurs when a higher education provider responds to an applicant's personal circumstances by offering a lower entry bar. This means disadvantaged students, for example those from a poorly performing school or deprived area, have a greater opportunity to attend university. 

Despite its early criticism, the Government made headway in 2011 by endorsing the contextualised admissions process and paving the way to broaden fair access to university. The 2004 Schwartz Report into university admissions concurred that 'equal examination grades do not necessarily represent equal potential' and it is 'fair and appropriate to consider contextual factors as well as formal educational achievement, given the variation in learners' opportunities and circumstances'. 

Key takeaways   

The monitor showed a fairly even divide of opinion between students that support contextualised offers and students that have concerns about it. 

  • In our poll, 47% of students are in favour of universities making lower grade offers to those from disadvantaged areas, whereas 45% are opposed to it.
  • Support for contextual offers is stronger from students attending a Russell Group university (57% in favour against 36% opposed). 
  • The majority of students (72%) believe that higher education admissions should take into account an applicant's background. 
  • 73% say it is harder to achieve good exam results if you grow up in a disadvantaged area (23% disagree with this). 
  • Only 28% feel that contextual offers will make it harder for students from a non-disadvantaged background to attend university (compared to 53% who disagree with this).
  • 54% think that students admitted with lower grades will be able to keep up with the course requirements (compared to 38% who think they will not).
  • Just 16% of students were certain that their university makes contextual grade offers and 65% were unsure

Read the full results here. 

Food for thought

We asked respondents: 'how do you feel about this specific type of offer?' and many answers were centred around the issue of fairness. This feeds into a key conclusion that despite the majority of support for contextual offers, there is still more that can be done to promote the positive side of the admissions process.

In the past, there has been the temptation for universities to be discreet or even secretive about their contextual offers and avoid potential negative backlash. We now have an opportunity to educate and engage students about the admissions process, showing its intention to reward potential, rather that to discriminate.  

About HEPI / Youthsight Monitor

The HEPI / YouthSight Monitors are a series of research that evaluates the political views of students on important, topical issues. 

You can read the full report here or if you would like to benefit from more knowledge on students or the youth market in general, then why not sign up to our free research snippets or talk to one of our specialists.

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