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Use of contextual data (2021 Entry)


Data and information are made available for Admissions officers to allow them to put the achievements of each individual applicant into context when selecting the most appropriate candidates for places at the University of St Andrews. The applications submitted by candidates meeting the contextual criteria set out in this document are flagged with ‘contextual markers’ to bring them to the attention of the Admissions officers making decisions.

General information

The University, as a condition of grant, is required to engage in national inclusion agendas, including Scottish Government initiatives on widening access. To support that work, when considering undergraduate applicants from the UK the University will also make use of contextual information, as set out herein. Use of that information, when making decisions on admissions, is part of the University’s public task.

Contextual information will be collated centrally for all applicants permanently domiciled or seeking asylum in the UK at the point of application, and who have been educated in the UK secondary school system, using publicly available information.

All admissions decisions are made in-line with the University’s Admissions Policy.


Our use of contextual data is based on the following principles:

  • To be evidence-based and relevant to the admissions decision-making process.
  • To be individually applied, with each applicant being considered on their own merit.
  • To complement and enhance existing selection mechanisms.
  • To provide fairness and equality of opportunity to all applicants.
  • To have full transparency to applicants and their advisors.
  • To be open to rigorous monitoring and subject to audit.

The process is based on individual applicant details in relation to various national averages. As a result, there is no set proportion of applicants who will be flagged with contextual markers. The proportion of applicants who are flagged will vary between academic subjects and from year to year. There is no quota of the number of students who are to be flagged.

Contextual data to be considered

  1. Prior education and potential

    To ensure entrants with the greatest potential are selected for the most appropriate course at the University of St Andrews, we will consider the academic performance of the applicant shown through their academic achievements and the educational environment in which this education took place using:

    • Specific data on progression to Higher Education relating to the school the applicant attends or most recently attended.
    • Data source:
    • Specific attainment data relating to the school the applicant attends or attended
    • Data source:
  2. Socio-economic diversity

    We wish to ensure that those admitted based on their potential to do well at St Andrews should come from the widest possible cross section of society. To ensure we achieve this we build diversity factors into our admissions process in the following way:

    • Specific geo-demographic data will be considered using the applicant’s home postcode. We use the latest Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) applicable to the area of residence in the UK, and ACORN data which covers the whole UK. IMD is a governmental postcode look-up tool which identifies areas of disadvantage. If the applicant is living in the lowest 40% of the IMD scale they will have their application flagged. ACORN is also a system that uses individual UK postcodes. ACORN is widely recognised and used by both the public and private sectors. Where the applicant’s postcode falls into ACORN groups four or five (Moderate Means and Hard Pressed) their application will be flagged (with the exception of Medicine).
      Data Source:
    • We will match the postcode of the applicant’s home address against the latest POLAR4 data set. POLAR4 is a classification of regions into quintiles based on the rate of participation in higher education. Applicants from the lowest two quintiles will be flagged.
      Data Source:
    • Where an applicant has indicated that they have been looked after or in care, their application will be flagged (determined from the UCAS application and subject to later verification checks).
    • Where an applicant has indicated that they are a young carer, their application will be flagged (determined from the UCAS application and subject to later verification checks).
    • Where an applicant has indicated that they are estranged, their application will be flagged (determined from the UCAS application and subject to later verification checks).
  3. Engagement with Higher Education Access programmes prior to application

    To ensure the best possible start for undergraduate students who have come from less traditional backgrounds, we will flag those applicants who have engaged with Higher Education Access programmes before applying to university.

    Where an applicant has indicated that they have been involved in activities that have been organised to raise aspiration to attend higher education (e.g. Sutton Trust Summer Schools, University of St Andrews Outreach programmes, or government-supported initiatives), their application will be flagged (determined from the UCAS application and subject to later verification checks).

Action taken by Admissions

The use of contextual information alone does not result in an automatic offer of a place being made to an applicant.

All applicants will be required to meet at least the minimum entrance requirements as set by the academic Schools, with the contextual data being used in combination with the principles and selection criteria contained in the Admissions Policy. All applications that meet, or can meet, the minimum entrance requirements and contain all the required information will be assessed by an Admissions Officer using academic results personal statements and references. personal statements and references.

The University’s ambition is to see equity of access across the country, regardless of socio-economic background. We pledge to make an offer to all UK applicants who:

  • declare a looked after or care experienced background. And/or
  • reside in the 20% most deprived areas in Scotland as indicated by the SIMD2020 and attend a school which has below national average progression to higher education.

We pledge this provided that the desire to study the subject is demonstrable, the minimum asking rates within all specified required subjects are met and if relevant there is success in external testing or interview.

Academic Entry Qualification Indicator (undergraduate)

The University of St Andrews uses contextual data for applicants in the UK to indicate which of our undergraduate academic entry requirements are most likely to be relevant. There are three categories of entry requirements:

  • Standard: Unless you are a widening access applicant, you will need these grades to be considered.
  • Minimum: If you are a widening access applicant, you will need these grades to be considered.
  • Gateway: If you are a widening access applicant, you may also be eligible for a Gateway programme. You will need these grades to be considered. This indicator will tell you which category of entry requirements you will need to look at on our subject pages. This is based on the information that you provide. A further assessment will take place when you submit an application.

Information provided in this indicator tool may be subject to later verification during the application cycle in line with our Admissions Policy and use of contextual data in order to determine whether applicants are eligible for minimum entry requirements or a guaranteed place in some instances.

The University is committed to monitoring, updating and improving data sources and decision rules in relation to the use of contextual admissions. Please also refer to our admissions policy for further guidance.