Little attention has been paid to the production of new professional identities and practices in higher education as part of the widening participation (WP) policy agenda. Jones and Thomas argue that WP practitioners tend to work on the periphery of universities, in separate centres and outside of academic faculties and departments (Jones and Thomas 2005). Burke (2012) argues that questions of identity matter in terms of power relations within institutions and the constructions of (lack of) authority that might facilitate or impede processes of change and transformation. This seminar draws on research to explore the spaces in which those with specific responsibility for WP work, and the implications of the roles, practices and identities of WP professionals for WP in higher education.
Working in a Third Space - Dr Celia Whitchurch, Senior Lecturer, Institute of Education, University of London
Widening participation professionals find themselves working in spaces that involve partnership with multiple stakeholders including, for instance, students, parents, schools, tertiary providers, employers, and regional and national agencies. Their roles can encompass broadly based projects such as student life, community partnership and institutional research. They therefore develop an appreciation of wide-ranging agendas relating to patterns of recruitment, learning support, outreach, welfare and employability. In this sense they can be seen as working in what Whitchurch has termed a Third Space between academic and professional spheres of activity (Whitchurch 2008, 2012). This has implications for understandings of, for instance, organisational relationships, sources of legitimacy, and career development. The session will draw on two studies funded by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education to consider the challenges that arise for both individuals and institutions from these extended roles and identities, and ways in which such challenges might be addressed.
Stratification, marketisation and social inequalities: Institutional approaches to widening participation in higher education - Pauline Whelan (Centre for Social and Educational Research across the Life Course, Leeds Metropolitan University)
In this talk, I contextualise institutional approaches to widening participation within an increasingly stratified and marketised English higher education system. I present a series of visualisations of widening participation ‘performance’ data from all higher education institutions in England for the period 2002-2010, focusing on how institutional widening participation ‘performances’ have varied across mission groups and by institutional type. While quantitative differences in institutional widening participation ‘performances’tell revealing stories about institutional diversity, they also illuminate the problems of existing datasets and modes of accountability. Turning from critical statistics to critical discourse analysis, I present an analysis of official widening participation documentation from 18 universities in England and discuss how institutions have variously adopted and rejected elements of national widening participation discourses, policies and philosophies. Insights from the quantitative and qualitative analyses are used to conceptualise the variation in institutional approaches to widening participation and to consider the implications for social inequalities in higher education.