The Department of Health is six weeks into a major recruitment drive to attract people into social work and its website includes a link to universities in England offering the social work degree. But from September anyone planning to go down that degree route faces a shock with the introduction of tuition fees for these courses. Some people will leave college with debts of £20,000 – which is an even less enticing prospect when your next step is not some cushy, well-paid number with great prospects but a job as an overworked and underpaid social worker.
Given the fact that we are facing a social care recruitment crisis in many areas it seems crazy to put up even more barriers to people who want to enter the field. Parallel professions like nursing don’t do it to their students.
You may think tuition fees are a bad idea – and they are – but one answer in areas where high calibre recruits are in short supply is for employers to step into the breech and make up the cash shortfall facing would-be students.
The armed forces tour the graduate recruitment fairs offering grants and bursaries to those willing to join up. A similar approach is taken by big companies who pay scholarships, bursaries and golden hellos to offset the impact of tuition fees and cuts in maintenance grants.
Local authorities may say they just don’t have the cash for this sort of inducement. In which case the responsibility falls to the government. Their recruitment campaign makes it clear they think social workers are needed so they can’t duck this issue – especially as they are the ones who have created the problem in the first place through the introduction of the fees.
The Department of Health’s letter setting out the changes is a masterpiece of Orwellian doublespeak, describing the new proposals as offering “greater immediate incentive to students and greater choice”. In other words you can use your bursary to meet your living costs and then get into debt to pay your fees. Or you can pay the fees with the bursary then run up debts to survive.
Some incentive, some choice!
As for nursing students getting a better deal – that was achieved partly as a result of the unions fighting their corner. We look forward to hearing what action BASW and Unison have planned to press the government to help social work students.
See Fears that degree fees will deter students despite rise in bursaries