Knowledge Hub | Case Studies | University of St Andrews

University of St Andrews

Leveraging Acorn’s demographic segmentation & insight to meet the needs of students entering Higher Education

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The Challenge

Jonathan McDougall-Bagnall, Planning Innovation and Infrastructure Manager at University of St Andrews, explained how the university lacked the necessary data to bolster accessibility for candidates applying to the school from across the UK.   
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,” Jonathan explained. “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

Following research into available data sources, the St Andrews team concluded that Acorn was the most comprehensive, accurate and current 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,” Jonathan continued. “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 at the University, elaborated on how Acorn data has enhanced the admissions process.  
Our admissions system includes codes attributed to socio-economic deprivation and other widening access criteria, drawn from Acorn data and other sources,” she explained. “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… 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.”

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