Widening participation in higher education: the role of professional and social class identities and commitments

Wilkins, Andrew and Burke, Penny Jane. 2015. Widening participation in higher education: the role of professional and social class identities and commitments. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 36(3), pp. 434-452. ISSN 0142-5692 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Since the neoliberal reforms to British education in the 1980s, education debates have been saturated with claims to the efficacy of the market as a mechanism for improving the content and delivery of state education. In recent decades with the expansion and ‘massification’ of higher education, widening participation (WP) has acquired an increasingly important role in redressing the under-representation of certain social groups in universities. Taken together, these trends neatly capture the twin goals of New Labour’s programme for education reform: economic competitiveness and social justice. But how do WP professionals negotiate competing demands of social equity and economic incentive? In this paper we explore how the hegemony of neoliberal discourse – of which the student as consumer is possibly the most pervasive – can be usefully disentangled from socially progressive, professional discourses exemplified through the speech and actions of WP practitioners and managers working in British higher education institutions.

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This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in British Journal of Sociology of Education on 09.10.13, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/01425692.2013.829742.


higher education, widening participation, language, professionalism, neoliberalism, social class

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Educational Studies


10 July 2013Accepted
9 October 2013Published Online

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Date Deposited:

06 Nov 2019 11:38

Last Modified:

11 Jun 2021 02:44

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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