Rethinking ‘widening participation’ in higher education
Sarah O’Shea, NCSEHE
Originally published in An invitation to reconceptualise Widening Participation through praxis, Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education
The term ‘widening participation’ has gained currency across the higher education (HE) environment and is generally used unproblematically in both policy and institutional discourse. A Google search of this term returned nearly 20 million hits with a multitude of ‘widening participation’ units, departments and programs across HE providers both within Australia and beyond. However, the unproblematic use of this term is questionable as it is neither politically neutral nor unambiguous in intent. This brief ‘think piece’ will critically consider the concept of ‘widening participation’ by situating it politically, socially and also, in relation to dominant knowledge constructions. The aim of this piece is to foreground some of the more contentious and ambiguous nuances of this term in order to better consider equity in, through and beyond HE.