Contextual Data

Applications to the University of Liverpool and contextual data for fair admissions.

The University of Liverpool is committed to providing equal opportunities for talented applicants from all backgrounds. Fundamentally, we believe that everyone with ability should be given every opportunity to succeed. We are therefore exploring ways in which we can use contextual data for fair access in our offer making.

What is Contextual Data?

All universities, including ours, receive information from UCAS derived from the details you enter on your UCAS form.

This includes the school or socio-economic context in which you have previously studied, together with information about any disability you may have, and whether you have been in social care at any point in your life.

Taken together, this information is often referred to as ‘contextual data’ as it provides us with some ‘context’ of any barriers that may have affected your learning journey. This data helps to facilitate fair access in admissions.

This data can help universities to understand more fully the academic potential that you may have, potential that may not have been fully demonstrated by your prior academic achievements. We recognise that circumstances beyond your control can impact on your learning and we want to account for that in our admissions process.

Considerable research has been undertaken, at both Liverpool and elsewhere, into the validity of such indicators of academic potential. The University is now satisfied that the use of contextual data for fair access is sufficiently robust in helping identify applicants who may have faced significant barriers to their education. If you wish to know more about the research being undertaken in this area, visit UCAS's webpages.

Contextual Admissions

Find out more about how we are using contextual data to make offers to specific groups.

What items of Contextual Data are considered?

The University of Liverpool uses a purpose built system to identify data that can provide context to an applicant’s learning journey. This system takes into account a combination of the following indicators.

Your postcode

The home postcode, which you provide on your UCAS application, is assessed against geo-demographic profiling datasets ACORN and POLAR. These datasets categorise postcode areas according to a range of characteristics.

  • ACORN is a social profiling dataset compiled for a number of sources which assesses socio-economic disadvantage and privilege by postcode.
  • POLAR tracks the number of residents in a postcode area who enter Higher Education.

Both of these datasets arrange the information they collect into five categories which they call ‘Quintiles’. The University of Liverpool recognises ACORN categories 4 and 5 as the most socio-economically disadvantaged while POLAR 4 quintiles 1 and 2 are the least likely to enter Higher Education.

Applicants from POLAR 4 quintile 1 will automatically receive a reduced offer of up to two grades below the standard offer (except Medicine and Foundation programmes).

Check the POLAR quintile status of your postcode

If you have a disability

If you declare a disability your application will be referred to our specialist Disability Support Team. They are experts in making individual assessments on an applicant’s circumstances.

If you have spent any time in social care

If you have spent any time in social care you will qualify for a reduced offer of up to 2 grades below the standard offer (except Medicine and Foundation programmes).

The University welcomes declarations of disability and social care status and the information provided from this data will only be used to develop a positive, supportive and fair approach for all.

UCAS Multiple Equality Measure (MEM) Data

After a review of how we use contextual data for fair access, the University of Liverpool is now using UCAS MEM data alongside our internal contextual data system. UCAS use MEM data as their main measure of equalities. MEM data considers a number of available data sets including:

  • sex
  • ethnic group
  • where people live (using the POLAR3 classification)
  • secondary education school sector (state or private)
  • income background (as measured by whether a person was in receipt of free school meals (FSM), a means-tested benefit while at school).

More detailed information on MEM data can be found on the UCAS website.

How will the University of Liverpool use Contextual Data?

If we identify you as having demonstrated academic potential in the context of difficult personal circumstances, the University will use this information in the following ways:

  • If you have spent any time in social care or if your postcode is in POLAR 4 Quintile 1, you will be made a reduced offer of up to 2 grades below the standard University of Liverpool offer (except Medicine, Dental Sciences or Foundation programmes). You will be notified of this by email.
  • If you are made an offer, but narrowly miss the terms of that offer when the examination results are published, you may be given additional consideration and prioritised when places are confirmed.
  • If you originally applied for Year 1 entry but have been made a changed course offer for a programme at Carmel College, you will be prioritised in the Carmel admissions processes.
  • If you already have your examination results when you apply, contextual data may be used to determine whether an unconditional offer may be made or not.
  • Where an applicant would be eligible for a reduced offer for reasons in addition to contextual data, the offer will remain as a reduction by a maximum of two grades below the standard offer, but all information will be taken into account when results are received.

How is Contextual Data used in Clinical Admissions?


Medicine applications are processed as outlined in our Departmental Supplement to the Admissions Policy.

The process is in three stages and offers are made following an assessment of academic potential, medicine admission test performance (UCAT) and interview. Routinely, while all applications are assessed on an individual basis against our published criteria, applicants who meet the criteria for  the university’s policy on contextual data for fair access, may be given additional consideration in relation to any of the stages of the process. Thus each application is reviewed to determine if it is appropriate to accept reduced GCSE, UCAT or interview performance.

Applicants who meet the criteria for contextual data and fair access would be expected to offer at least 12 points at GCSE (scoring system as outlined in our Departmental Supplement)  However,  English Language and Maths GCSEs would need to meet minimum requirements of grade 6. Flexibility on UCAT and MMI performance are determined annually when the scores are available from all applicants.

Veterinary Science

Veterinary science applications are processed as outlined in our Departmental Supplement to the Admissions Policy.

We will make allowances for applicants who meet the criteria for the university's policy on contextual data for fair access when considering applications and these applicants may also receive a reduced offer.


Special consideration may be given to applicants who meet the agreed criteria for contextual data for fair access following interviews when making offers.

We will not be making any reduced offers for applicants who meet the criteria for contextual data for fair access however, special consideration may be given during the selection for interview stage.

Are you eligible for a contextual offer?

To determine if you are eligible for a contextual offer, please answer the questions in our Indicator Tool.

Disrupted Studies during your Education

Applicants can experience a wide range of issues that may cause a disruption to learning and may impact detrimentally on results.

We are particularly interested in applicants who are:

  • Care Experienced
  • Estranged from family
  • Young Adult Carers
  • Young Parents
  • Children of military families
  • Asylum Seekers
  • Refugees
  • From Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities
  • Have faced medical issues during their time at school/college.

However if you have experienced personal, social or domestic issues which do not fit under these categories, please still complete the form found here

Please note this does not cover COVID related disruption as this is being addressed more widely.


If you have any further queries please contact Jo McNeill, Fair Access in Admissions Manager 

Back to: Undergraduate