Rethinking Disadvantage: a social capital approach to Widening Participation

Matthew Johnson, Gareth Bowden, Guillermo Alonso

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In England and Wales, the introduction of £9,250 Higher Education tuition fees and concern more broadly about social mobility has led to the creation of a series of initiatives aimed at Widening Participation. Increasingly, critics argue that these initiatives have failed to achieve genuine representativeness, with lower ranked universities absorbing higher numbers of students from under-represented groups, who then face additional challenges in securing progression to employment. In this article, we examine dominant narratives Widening Participation programmes in England and Wales in order to assert means of widening more effectively access, in the first instance, but also retention and progression. Rejecting non-subject-specific instrumental approaches that focus directly on graduate labour market value and earnings, we argue that effective Widening Participation ought to focus centrally on the institutional value of Higher Education and on fostering social capital, especially in lower ranked universities whose graduates are already discriminated against in the labour market. To this end, we evaluate deployment of a Politics-based Widening Participation programme, Rethinking Disadvantage, asserting a set of conclusions for colleagues in other disciplines and institutions seeking to develop their own approaches.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-78
Number of pages24
JournalWidening Participation and Lifelong Learning
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes


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