Social work will be taught by academics with no practice experience
if the shortage of professionals moving into teaching continues,
according to an expert, writes Derren
June Thoburn, emeritus professor of social work at the University
of East Anglia, says the ageing academic workforce is not being
replaced by new blood.
Experts fear the dwindling supply of academics could threaten the
expansion of social work degrees or result in a drop in teaching
So acute is the problem that the Social Care Institute for
Excellence has joined the Economic and Social Research Council and
Joint University Council to fund a review of university social work
courses. It is due to report next spring.
Thoburn says the problem could turn into a “crisis” because of the
ageing nature of the academic workforce.
She warns: “Either the expansion in social work degree places will
have to be curtailed or the quality will drop as students are
taught increasingly by social science academics with no social work
Although the shortage can be blamed partly on the development of
the new degree and subsequent rise in the number of institutions
offering courses, there are other factors.
Ela O’Farrell, lecturer in social work at the University of Kent,
says it is difficult to attract new tutors – usually practising
social workers – because local authorities pay more.
“They are at a level they won’t be able to achieve in the academic
field because they don’t have the experience or background,” she
says. “It has tended to be people at more managerial level who have
applied but they could suffer a pay cut if they do now.”
O’Farrell says the expansion of student numbers under the new
degree has resulted in classes of 60-80 students. “There is in some
ways less job satisfaction from lecturing to such large classes,”
Jill Manthorpe, professor of social care at King’s College, London,
questions whether a growth in targets in academia is taking some of
the enjoyment out of teaching as a career.
She says: “Targets are set for publishing and research income by
academics. It places people under pressure.”
Long summer holidays used to compensate for lower salaries, she
says, but the increased pressure to meet targets and the extra
pastoral responsibilities that go with larger class sizes has made
lecturing a less attractive proposition.
O’Farrell believes part of the answer has to lie in improved pay,
but also says forging close links with social services departments
and encouraging practitioners into the classroom to speak could
also help “open their eyes” to becoming an academic.