This three-year project is investigating interventions for widening participation in a public university and private university in Ghana and Tanzania. The overall aim is to interrogate the role that universities play in poverty reduction programmes and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The project aims to explore factors that facilitate or impede participation in higher education. This will involve examination of policy frameworks and codes of practice for widening participation of under-represented groups in higher education in Ghana and Tanzania. It will also include evaluating the success of widening participation initiatives via scrutiny of statistical data and interviews with key staff, policy-makers and community advocates and life-history narrative research with students from 'non-traditional' backgrounds. After setting the scene for the project, this paper presents project and background information for the two countries.