The emergence of the 'Widening Participation' (WP) agenda in English Higher Education (HE) has been intensified by the shift to tuition fees of ?9000 or more. Now, universities have an obligation to devote funds to encouraging participation of students from a range of groups identified by the Office for Fair Access as being under-represented and disadvantaged. For a discipline like Politics/International Relations, with implicit concerns for the examination of concepts such as social justice, there is both prima facie reason and intellectual capacity for engagement in WP programmes. In this article, we explore the tension between 'intrinsic' 'professional' WP and 'instrumental' 'academic' WP, arguing that a number of pressures need to be navigated in order for academics to engage successfully in such work. We advance an approach to maximising the value of WP programmes for academics by way of illustrating the considerations, costs and benefits of engaging with the agenda. While the article draws on experience in England, the implications are relevant to the profession in most industrialised countries, since growing inequality and the rising cost of HE study mean that WP is an agenda which will only expand.