“Festivalisation” as a recruitment strategy

Are knowledge-based events widening participation in HE? 

In recent decades, the democratisation of education has led to an increase in the participation of low social-economic communities, giving its members the opportunity to have access to better paid jobs and also to decision-making positions and processes in society. However, in countries where awareness of social differences in the access to Higher Education (HE) is high, different measures have been taken to ensure that equality of opportunities exist among the different communities and therefore across society.

The idea of community is characterised by a lack of precision, and may be determined by the specific circumstances in which it is being alluded to. In this article, two types of communities come to the fore: geographical community, which is defined by territorial boundaries; and community of identity, which is based on shared characteristics, such as non-participation in HE.

In the United Kingdom, widening participation has been given prime focus. Within the context of HE, it could be seen as the basis on which to measure the prevalence of social justice, cohesion and equality. Although different measures have been taken specifically to widen participation, as well as a range of top-up initiatives and regulations, much remains to be done. Low participation neighbourhoods with respect to HE in the UK have been identified within the Office for Students’ POLAR (Participation of Local Areas) classifications. Publicly available data shows the participation of young people in HE for geographical areas on a range of scales, from Regions to council wards.

Different initiatives are being developed to disseminate knowledge beyond academia and reinforce the role of research and overall knowledge development in the wider society. Some of these initiatives are considered public engagements, others are informational or simply open-public events.

Despite the criticism of an increased marketization of HE, educational institutions use certain events not only to compete on a global market scale, but also to share information, enabling public engagement in research. These events, such as the Festival of Learning or NTU’s recent Festival of Mental Health, also aim to contribute towards knowledge development in the wider society. They may attract, with more or less indirect impact, members from a wide range of communities, amongst them members from low participation neighbourhoods.

This corresponds to a current trend in the increased use of events as a catalyst for social change. Getz (2007) defines different types of events; these can take educational and scientific forms. These events, along with the ones organised by universities to communicate and disseminate knowledge within the context of academic research, could be said to belong to a newly created category of knowledge-based events, which encompasses the idea of co-creation and engagement.

If on the one side this corresponds to the “festivalisation of society” (Richards, 2007), on the other side, “knowledge eventification” (Jakob, 2013) could have the potential to involve more members of low participant communities in HE. However, it is still unknown as to what extent these events (such as open days, open-public seminars, science festivals and outreach activities) contribute to widening the participation of these communities. Furthermore, there is need to ascertain what sorts of indicators and instruments are most effective in the estimation of the impact of knowledge-based events in widening participation from low participation neighbourhoods in HE, and whether universities using knowledge-based events are concretely providing educational opportunities for communities of low participation neighbourhoods through such avenues.

Some may still ask: why knowledge-based events and widening participation?

There is a need to fill the gap in our understanding of how a recent trend (knowledge-based events) can contribute to supporting  and boosting one of the priority areas for education and wider social participation, a major concern in political agendas in western countries (not just the UK). Insights into this important subject have the potential to contribute towards providing the conditions for creating an increased awareness of HE opportunities, in the UK and globally. These opportunities for HE could later result in better integration in the employment market for members of low participation neighbourhoods.

Dr Marcellus Mbah & Dr Lénia Marques (Erasmus University, Rotterdam)



Getz, D. (2007) Event Studies: Theory, Research and Policy for Planned Events, Elsevier.

Jakob, D. (2013). The eventification of place: Urban development and experience consumption in Berlin and New York City. European Urban and Regional Studies October 2013 vol. 20 no. 4 447-459.

Richards, G. (2007) The Festivalization of Society or the Socialization of Festivals? The Case of Catalunya. In Richards, G. (ed.) Cultural Cultural Tourism:Global and local perspectives. Binghampton: Haworth Press, pp. 257-280.

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