Public Event

The Business of Widening Participation: the political economy of HE access in a neoliberal system

Date: Wednesday, 18 January 2023 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Location: Room 901, UCL Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way (in-person only)
Speaker(s):
  • Colin McCaig, Sheffield Hallam University

Event Materials

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This paper will discuss the political economy of widening participation (WP) policy in the English market context. It focuses on how WP policy – at a national and institutional level – has evolved in response to two major policy imperatives of the last 50 years: the human capital-driven expansion of the HE system; and the process of marketisation through differentiation begun with the 1987 White Paper. It draws on some my recent work, including McCaig, C, Rainford, J and Squire, R (Eds) (2022) The Business of Widening Participation: policy, practice and culture and my 2018 monograph McCaig, C (2018) The marketisation of English Higher Education: a policy analysis of a risk-based system. The paper uses a policy analysis approach (Fairclough and Fairclough 2013) to explore developments in WP policy in the English HE system since 1997, in the context of system marketisation. Situating WP as a natural corollary of system expansion (dating from the Robbins report of 1963) and a developing process of marketisation of the English system since 1986, this analysis traces the entanglement of dual social justice and economic ‘human capital’ imperatives in policy discourse. Alongside increasing concerns about the costs of a demand-led market, particularly after the removal of number caps in 2015/16, the HE system has been subject to growing regulatory oversight since the Higher Education and Research Act (2017) and the establishment of the Office for Students (OfS). And higher-level policy concerns have switched away from widening participation for all, bringing the choice-driven market back into question.

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