Reflections on Business of Widening Participation event 

Colleagues from Leeds Trinity University recently presided over and contributed to an excellent, informative Education Study Group Event for the British Sociological Association.

‘The Business of Widening Participation: Tensions in Access and Participation’, which was held on 17 November, brought together colleagues from a range of institutions, roles and perspectives, along with students from a mix of levels and subject disciplines.

Starting the day with a student panel, the event foregrounded the experiences of learners within our institutions. Offering no easy solutions, the complex concept of ‘belonging’ was unpicked. Students talked passionately about being treated as individuals within a collective identity: they are their own ‘human library’ and being valued as part of this was felt to be key.

In the afternoon, attainment raising across educational ages was discussed by a panel of education leaders, bringing in the perspectives of evaluation, schools, and higher education. Again, there is no magic bullet to be offered but it was identified as helpful to understand learners as individuals with their own unique starting points, and to ensure that comprehensive evaluative activity is built into any programme from the start.

The day ended with a comprehensive overview of new book ‘The Business of Widening Participation: Policy, Practice and Culture’. Its authors Colin McCaig, Jon Rainford and Ruth Squire offered insights into policy implications in the work that we do.

The event was well thought-through and highlighted the tensions and challenges that exist in the business of ensuring that higher education is open to and equipped to benefit and value students from a range of backgrounds.

Helen Sykes, GHWY Manager