Widening participation (WP) in higher education is a major component of government education policy in the United Kingdom and Europe. It consists of an attempt to increase not only the numbers of young people entering higher education, but also the proportion from under-represented groups (those from lower income families, people with disabilities and some ethnic minorities).
In this way it is hoped to redress the inequalities in participation between social classes. Widening participation is one of the strategic objectives of the Office for Students (OfS). The issue of widening participation became a political issue after the Laura Spence Affair which hit the headlines in 2000, and after the University of Bristol admissions controversy in 2003, which concerned alleged biases against and in favour of state schools, respectively.
The Office for Students is pursuing this policy through a number of measures, including the payment of financial incentives to universities and by funding the Uni Connect programme.
This policy is linked to the previous Labour government's target of increasing participation in higher education to 50% by 2010.