The widening participation 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 so-called "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 Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The issue of widening participation became a political issue after the Laura Spence Affair which hit the headlines in 2000 and after the 2003 University of Bristol admissions row which concerned alleged biases in favour of the state sector.
HEFCE is pursuing this policy through a number of measures, including the payment of financial incentives to universities and by funding the Aimhigher programme.
This policy is linked to the Labour government's target of increasing participation in higher education to 50% by 2010.
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