Campus closures and the devaluing of emplaced Higher Education: widening participation in neoliberal times

Sarah Leaney, Shadreck Mwale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Widening participation (WP) in Higher Education (HE) is often positioned as key to resolving social inequality; it underpins arguments that increasing levels of education lead to reduced levels of poverty. Located within the tension of duty and need, WP is positioned as both the responsibility of the University and a financial imperative. This paper considers the student experience of this tension, specifically the contradictions between discourses of equality and diversity and neoliberal conceptualisations of HE as market. Drawing upon qualitative research conducted during the closure of a WP satellite campus, the paper explores the consequences of the withdrawal of HE provision for ‘local’ students. Utilising focus group methodologies to develop an approach for ‘thinking with’ seven WP students, the paper explores the material, social and affective contexts within which students experience university in their ‘hometown’. Foregrounding participants’ critical understanding of their ‘place’ within a marketised HE sector, we consider the formation of student identity as a site of struggles for value. We argue, the closure of satellite campuses must be understood within the context of deepening social-spatial inequalities. Developing a critique of individualised constructions of ‘social mobility’, we outline an alternative imaginary of HE as an intergenerational community resource.
Original languageEnglish
Article number82
Pages (from-to)977-992
Number of pages15
JournalHigher education: the international journal of higher education research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021


  • Widening Participation
  • Neoliberalism
  • Emplaced Higher Education
  • Social class


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