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Attracting diversity: The University of Strathclyde

Lessons learned

  • It was enormously beneficial to have dedicated time and space to work on and discuss the project.

It allowed for individuals from different parts of the institutions, with different perspectives, expertise and priorities, to collaborate and share insights. In addition, follow-up work has become more likely to take place. It would be fruitful to ensure that outreach work takes greater cognisance of underrepresentation and the explicit inclusion of people with protected characteristics.

  • It is worth exploring what information is currently collected within the institution and how that can be harnessed, analysed and used for comparative purposes to meet the aims of any project. Team members were able to gain insights and develop a baseline understanding of entry to the institution by harnessing data that was already collected or by slightly altering existing processes.
  • Student representatives should be recruited from the outset.


The University of Strathclyde is an urban institution with a campus at the heart of Glasgow city centre. Strathclyde’s cohort of SIMD40 entrants is the largest of all Scottish research-intensive institutions and the third largest in Scotland. More than one in ten of all young, full-time, MD40 students enrolling on undergraduate degree programmes in Scotland come to Strathclyde.


By participating in this project the university aims to build on its strengths in widening access by increasing its understanding of potential barriers to entry for people from diverse backgrounds. In particular, it seeks to further its understanding of the overlap or intersections between protected characteristics and SIMD.

The primary object through the project was, and continues to be, to gain a greater understanding of application data and what this reveals about who applies to the university’s programmes, how likely they are to receive an offer, the timeline of that process and whether applications convert to entrant registrations. This evidence can be used to inform future recruitment, widening access and admissions activities and policies.

Planned outcomes

Short-term objectives:

  • Review open day, application and student survey data
  • Cross-tabulate personal characteristics (age, gender, disability, SIMD) to examine overlap and interactions between characteristics
  • Determine possible barriers to entry by comparing rates of offer and entry by different characteristics

Longer-term objectives:

  • Refine data collection methods and continue year on year collation and analysis to track trends and evaluate impact of targeted interventions
  • Harness findings in the development of future recruitment, widening access, disability support and equality activities.

Successes to date

  • There were no statistically significant indications of any barriers to applicants receiving an offer in terms of the characteristics of age, gender and disability. There were minor differences in acceptance rates by gender (slightly higher for men than women) and by age group (higher for 16-19 than all other age groups).
  • Of all characteristics, SIMD appeared to be significant: there were clear differences in acceptance rates by SIMD quintile/decile, although this does not explain why. When the data was scrutinised by gender, age and disability at each SIMD quintile level, there were still no statistically significant indications of any barriers between the acceptance rates of applicants with different protected characteristics.
  • Scrutiny of open day data also suggested that SIMD was a key factor, with those from less deprived quintiles registering in much greater numbers than those from more deprived areas. There were also far fewer older registrants. The majority of publicity for the event is targeted at schools and colleges, so the latter finding is, perhaps, unsurprising. Nonetheless, it suggests that future work could be usefully directed towards older learners returning to study.
  • Student survey data was collected but there has not yet been time to fully analyse the results. Such activity will be rolled forward into plans for the upcoming academic year.

The findings suggest that Strathclyde is correct in continuing to use SIMD as one of a number of publicly available or verifiable indicators of underrepresentation and disadvantage. While the sector, quite correctly, has pointed out the limitations involved in the use of SIMD, it remains a powerful tool for this institution at least.

One of the most positive aspects of the project to emerge so far has been the opportunity for the team to meet to discuss issues of equality and access. The project has provided a platform for such discussions and activities. For example, making the team aware of data on the student experience collected by the surveys team.


  • Keeping the scope of the project manageable. The team needed to remain mindful of time and resource constraints, however, and thus carefully delineate the boundaries of the project. For example, within the timeframe of the project it was not possible to consider low progression schools and FE entrants.
  • The team did not include student representation within the group as there was not sufficient time to recruit from the student body.
  • Data limitations:
  • Using end of cycle application data meaning that applicants who withdrew during that cycle was not included in the results. Awareness of such behaviour would be of great use when attempting to understand potential barriers.
  • It was not possible to include ethnicity data. Student ethnicity is one of the characteristics that is only confirmed at the point of entry. Instead, the project focused on those protected characteristics for which data could be readily accessed.
  • The application data was limited to those programmes using UCAS, which therefore excludes some known positive progression routes for SIMD students that apply directly from partner colleges.
  • Open day data does not record details of disability or gender. Also, it only provides information on those who registered, which does not necessarily correspond to those who attend open days.

Next steps

The project team will continue to work together to gather data, refine understanding and develop evidence-based practices and activities.

  • Disseminate findings internally to inform recruitment and selection practices through faculty-specific and cross-institutional dissemination events.
  • Conduct in-depth analysis of survey data to explore student experience issues in terms of application and induction to Strathclyde.
  • Undertake ‘applicant behaviour’ analysis to determine whether applicants with particular characteristics make applications in a different pattern to the average.
  • Undertake more in-depth analysis of current open day data to inform planned activities to target publicity.
  • Refine data collection methods for open days and continue to collect data.
  • Investigate the potential use of a decliners survey to better understand why applicants chose not to attend the institution, resulting in the development of pilot survey for use in next application cycle.
  • Incorporate attainment data (UCAS tariff points) into application cycle analysis, to be included in cross-tabulation analysis of applicant characteristics.

The work will be embedded within institutional reporting structures and made sustainable by:

  • The production of an annual report of data and analysis to the admissions management committee with more frequent updates to the admissions monitoring committee. This will ensure awareness of outputs by senior faculty staff. In addition, information and analysis will inform admissions and selection activity within applications cycle.
  • Further developments of Strathclyde’s business intelligence reporting dashboard, which facilitates detailed reviews of students by different characteristics Application data can be compared with student data to monitor progress beyond application. It will shortly also be possible to track retention and progression.