Scheme of the Semester: MDAS

It’s that time of the year again – our ‘Scheme of the semester’ for this term is the Manchester Distance Access Scheme, or MDAS as we often refer to it. But what is MDAS, and what does it mean for you? MDAS is open to Year 13 students who hold an offer to study on a participating course (we’ll go through these!) at The University of Manchester, and who are identified as coming from a ‘widening participation’ background (we’ll cover this too). MDAS is there to support your transition into higher education, and give you the chance to build on the academic study skills you’ve developed at sixth form or college and apply these to an undergraduate-style piece of work. You’ll even get support from an academic tutor – in some cases this may be one of your first year lecturers! And don’t forget about the one-grade reduction to the standard entry requirements as a reward for all the work and preparation you do on the programme. What’s not to like?

Read on for a more detailed look at what MDAS is, who is eligible, and what students really think of the programme.

What is MDAS?

So as we mentioned up there, MDAS is designed to support your transition into higher education. It takes place between June and August and is run completely online via Blackboard – an online learning platform a bit like a school/college ‘Moodle’ page – so you’ll need internet and computer/laptop access to complete the programme too (although if you think this might be a problem for you we recommend letting the MDAS team know).

It consists of two parts: 1) an academic skills module to help you develop university style learning skills and 2) a ‘mini degree’ module to help you prepare for studying your course. You’ll complete the academic skills module between May and the beginning of July on Blackboard, and there are five sections that you’ll cover:

  • Understanding your task;
  • Writing your essay;
  • Referencing your sources;
  • Avoiding plagiarism;
  • Planning your presentation.

You have to complete a short assessment for each, and if you pass all of these then you’ll move on to the ‘mini degree’ module. You’ll get the chance to complete an academic piece of work related to the subject you’ll be studying at degree level – this could be a written academic assignment, online assessed module or problem solving piece depending on the subject you want to study. I know that might seem a bit daunting, but fear not! You’ll have an academic tutor who will be able to guide you in the right direction, enabling you to get the most out of the assignment.

Who is eligible?

It’s open to Year 13 students who hold an offer to study on a participating course at the University of Manchester, but the other criteria is that you have to be from a ‘widening participation’ (WP) background. What does that mean, I hear you ask? Well, widening participation refers to the work that universities do to widen access to their institutions. This is because we know that there are more factors to consider than just grades, and education is not ‘a level playing field’ – for example, someone who went to an independent school or who grew up in an area where lots of people go to university would have had more access to information about higher education. We look at your postcode to determine whether you are from a widening participation background or not, comparing it with publically available data sets that look at the rates of progression into higher education in your area, and how ‘advantaged’ your neighbourhood is. If you meet the criteria, and/or have experienced living in care in your lifetime, you’ll also be considered a WP student and would be eligible to complete MDAS.

NB!: You wouldn’t be eligible for MDAS if you’re an independent school student or an international student who is living and studying overseas– the former because you will have benefited from your education in ways other students might not have, and the latter because we do not have access to the appropriate data we’d need.

You can check your eligibility using the University’s contextual offer edibility checker on our website – but be aware that the data can change year on year (so the results currently only relate to 2022 entry). If you receive a WP/WP Plus/WP Plus Plus Flag based on the information you provide, then you likely meet the postcode criteria needed for MDAS.

Which courses are involved in MDAS?

We have a full list of the courses involved on our website – you can look at them here. These can change year on year, so if a course isn’t included that you think you’d like to apply for, it may well be by the time you get round to university applications.

What do students think of the programme?

So now you have the lowdown on what MDAS is and who’s eligible, it’s time to hear what students think about the scheme! We surveyed some students from last year’s programme to see what their experiences on MDAS were like. 78% of those asked said they felt that completing MDAS made them feel more prepared to start university, and 80% said that they felt more confident to begin their undergraduate studies as a result of MDAS, which we were pretty proud of. Some students had even more to say about the benefits of MDAS:


‘I just wanted to say that I think it’s a brilliant scheme on two fronts, not only did it give me a reduced offer (which probably relieved pressure that I’d felt up until that point), but the opportunity to attempt a piece of work months before the course started was stimulating and exciting! Thank you!’

‘I think it is a really beneficial scheme to people who have not been had a university experience due to their situation. It was useful to learn about referencing and plagiarism as it has not been explained at that level until this course. Overall the scheme and the task is do-able and gives you a taste of university life.’

‘The teachers and staff members were very easy to reach and they were very helpful, they helped me with every question I had and helped me with the assignment. I was able to complete the project which in the end helped me with the beginning of university. By completing the MDAS scheme I was able to learn a few things and practice work similar to my uni course. It was a great experience.’

And that’s MDAS for you! Hopefully this blog post has given you a good idea of what the scheme is about, and whether you could be invited to participate in the programme.

One final thing to bear in mind is that if you’re eligible for MDAS, then you could also be eligible for a contextual offer. This means that, if you successfully complete MDAS and choose to study at the University of Manchester, you could receive an offer that is up to three grades below the standard offer for your course (so AAA would become BBB or ABB for example). You can find out more about contextual offers and access schemes on the dedicated webpages here, and take a look at all things MDAS over here.

We hope to see you on the scheme soon!