Circle Case study

How CACI’s data supported the University of St Andrews

Consistent, UK-wide demographic data from Acorn

The challenge

Jonathan McDougall-Bagnall is the Planning Innovation and Infrastructure Manager at the University. He explains: “The data project is part of our Contextual Admissions Policy launched several years ago. We are constantly striving to widen access to our institution and ensuring that it remains accessible to all. Historically we have used SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) data and school performance data to identify candidates in Scotland who may require the support of our contextual admissions policy. We wanted to widen this to applicants from around the UK and needed to find suitable equivalent data. Each UK country calculates their index in a slightly different way, so we couldn’t make a direct comparison.”

The solution

The St Andrews team researched the data sources available and concluded that Acorn was the most comprehensive, accurate and current dataset for their needs.

“We use the Acorn postcode database as an integral part of our decision making system, to help us determine which candidates come from areas of deprivation,” says Jonathan. “We have the database and the profiler software, though we mainly use the database directly. The data is simply structured and easy to use, it comes in the same format every year. It’s very straightforward to pull into our systems, because of the consistent format and quality.”

The benefits

Joanna Fry, Access Manager: Widening Access & Transitions, says, “Our admissions system includes codes attributed to socio-economic deprivation and other widening access criteria, drawn from Acorn data and other sources.”

“Both the admissions team and our academic colleagues can now look at students in groups and compare peer groups of those with similar access codes. This gives us vital context to benchmark students from similar environments and circumstances. For example, it can help us interpret the range of exams they’ve taken; the candidate’s school may not have a wide range of subjects on offer. It also can help us understand how personal statements and references are written, depending on the influences and level of support that a candidate may have had.”

We want students with the best potential; the Acorn data helps us identify potential that goes beyond certified grades. We have plenty of evidence to show that students can do extremely well even from constrained academic and teaching backgrounds. If we understand the area and school that candidates come from, alongside their grades, we have a much clearer picture of their ability to perform.

Joanna Fry, Access Manager: Widening Access & Transitions, University of St Andrews

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