Universities as Agents of the State: the Example of Widening Participation
Ross Alexander, Renton
The research project investigates the role Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) play in delivering the government’s social policies through Widening Participation (WP) policy, why HEIs have a role in social policy and whether the current model fits all segments of the HE sector. In particular, it evaluates the impact of the policies on the development of HEIs and particularly post-92 HEI expansion. It is recognised that the political and economic environment has had, and will continue to have, a significant level of influence on the development of Higher Education (HE) within England. The relationship between the state and HE in delivering WP raises questions of autonomy and purpose which are explored within the study, recognising the importance of understanding the original intentions of the policy. The study ultimately helps to identify the future role of HEIs in delivering state policies, using WP policy as the example, and how this will impact on HEIs. A mixed methods approach, combining documentary analysis and comparative analysis with futures studies, is used to conduct the study. Case studies have been used to support the comparative analysis. The use of future studies with WP and HE, pioneered within this study, offering insight into a new method of considering the role of institutions in delivering social policies. The alternate futures produced aid our understanding of what a mutually beneficial policy outcome would be for both institutions and the state. This offers a preferred model of effective state-HE relationships allowing institutions to have a greater level of autonomy from the state whilst sharing the strategic aims of the state in delivering growth through WP. The model supports HEI policy makers in planning for change within the sector. The study, and the model produced, is designed to suggest further research for conducting a stakeholder analysis. This would test the future scenarios produced in the study with key influencers within the HE sector. The outcome of this would be to facilitate the planning process for the future in an evidence-based way. The model has the potential to be reused for other policy initiatives, other than the example of WP, to shape future state-HE relationships.