Introduction: the case for a 'business of widening participation'

Colin McCaig, Jon Rainford, Ruth Squire

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Widening participation (WP) has increasingly become part of the normal 'business' of English higher education (HE) providers during the last 25 years. WP entered the policy mainstream for the entire HE sector following the Dearing Review (NCIHE, 1997) and the election of a new Labour government wedded to notions of social justice but also concerned with 'lifelong learning' in the name of human capital growth. This book employs a dual usage of the term 'business' in relation to WP policy, practice and culture in the context of the marketised English HE system. The first, figurative, usage explores the ways in which WP has been drawn into institutional positionality as HE providers are encouraged to differentiate themselves in the market. The second, literal, usage explores the ways in which the business of WP has become 'business as normal' for the sector and institutions, increasingly intertwined with other activities and which play out variously, often in response to regulatory demands of the state. This introductory chapter first contextualises these developments with a brief overview of the evolution of the HE sector in England before proposing a multilevel model-the HE policy enactment staircase-as a way of thinking about how policy is made, enacted and implemented within the sector. This chapter then draws upon this model to acts as a structure for this book. It does this by moving from a macro-level exploration of ideological levels of policymaking, through National/Sectoral level right down to the issues at an institutional and operational levels. In doing so, this chapter creates a framework from which to understand how the various elements and levels of the business of WP play out within the English HE sector.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe business of widening participation
Subtitle of host publicationpolicy, practice and culture
EditorsColin McNab, Jon Rainford, Ruth Squire
Place of PublicationBingley
PublisherEmerald Publishing
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781800430495
ISBN (Print)9781800430501
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Fair access
  • HE policy
  • Higher education
  • Marketisation
  • Policy enactment
  • Widening participation


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