When you think of students with low prior attainment, you might think of a small number of providers that aim to recruit non-traditional entrants. But in reality, many institutions have at least some students on non-foundation honours courses with the equivalent of three Ds or below at A level.
This is not a complete picture. I’ve only looked at courses mapped to at least level two of the Common Academic Hierarchy (CAH2). But as testament to the rich variety of student life experience that lead to honours-level study, what I have found is hugely inspiring. For all the elitist talk of off-putting entry requirements, providers are taking students based on their potential and not their past. As we know that A level performance is closely correlated with multiple measures of disadvantage, this should be heartening news for anyone concerned with social equality.
I’ve never used the Unistats dataset before but there is both a richness and a frustrating incompleteness to it. What is offered here is a taste of low prior attainment in the sector, not the full picture. I’ve plotted only where the data I need exists, and there are many courses that are therefore not visible on this graph. For this reason you should not see this visualisation as a league table.
When you choose the CAH2 subject area of interest using the drop-down menu at the top, the main graph shows the average percentage of students with less than 80 UCAS tariff points (80 is equivalent to CDD at A level) starting on courses at each institution between 2015 and 2017.
I’ve provided a number of additional filters:
- Honours allows you to decide whether to also look at courses that do not lead an honours degree. By default this is set to honours only, as it is likely that more students with lower prior attainment would be on non-honours courses.
- Foundation allows you to decide whether to look at courses that include a compulsory or optional foundation year. By default I have selected both optional or no foundation year available.
- Mode allows you to chose to view full or part-time courses, or both. By default you are looking at all courses, as there are very few part-time courses represented in the dataset.
- Region and Group allow you to filter by provider location and provider type, respectively.
- The Provider Name highlighter lets you quickly find an institution of interest. You may have to scroll the graph to find it.
Clicking on one of the dots in the main graph opens an additional window below – this shows you the specific course names at each institution, and mousing over these shows the population size for the percentage calculations for each course (orange line) and the inferred number of students with 80 points or less (blue line). The inferred number has been calculated because the data in Unistats only exists as a percentage.
Why does this look odd?
There are a number of reasons why an institution or course may have more students with lower attainment than you might expect. For example:
- The course or institution may have used a high number of unconditional offers or taken a large number of students through clearing.
- The course or institution may accept applications other than those that map to the UCAS tariff – like interviews, auditions, portfolios, or specific entry examinations.
- A course or institution may be of particular interest to mature or professional learners.
- In rare cases, incorrect data may have been submitted to Unistats.
Looking at the list of individual courses may help you identify what is going on.
Limiting access to loans
The past weeks have seen much discussion of the idea of limiting fee and maintenance loan access to students with DDD at A level or above. As incomplete as it may be, what this data tells us is that this decision could have an impact in every subject area and nearly every institution – but more importantly that many students capable of studying challenging and rewarding courses would lose the financial support that they need to participate.
Components of the Unistats Dataset are reproduced with the permission of the Office for Students (OfS), the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and their licensors. The Unistats Dataset may be accessed in its original form here. All copyright and other intellectual property rights in the Unistats Dataset are owned by OfS, HESA and their licensors – terms and conditions are available. The Unistats Dataset, and thus this visualisation, is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice – HESA make no representations, warranties or endorsements about the information in the Unistats Dataset or its accuracy.