(Pic by Tom Parkes)
Hundreds of students, lecturers and practitioners are protesting against a proposal by Reading University to close its social work department by 2011.
Ann Quinn, director of social work studies, (pictured with students and staff) said she was “sad and angry” at the recommendation by the university’s management board. It followed an internal review that found the “strategic importance” of the school of health and social care was “limited”.
When the announcement was made last month, the school had already made 57 offers for its 2009 social work degree out of a possible 65, but students had offers withdrawn within days of receiving acceptance letters.
Quinn said, in the long term, closing the department would shut off the profession as a career option to many people unable to travel to institutions outside Berkshire.
Social worker shortages
Reading Council said it was disappointed as the proposed closure would exacerbate shortages of social workers in the area. Some of the 170 students on the degree course accused the university of putting its own financial situation before the needs of the community.
The university acknowledged the “excellent” standard of teaching at the school, and said its programmes, which include four post-qualifying awards, had made “a considerable contribution to the region in nursing, counselling and social work”.
A 2008 survey for the Higher Education Funding Council for England found 83% of social work students at Reading were satisfied with the course. The Research Assessment Exercise, a UK-wide appraisal of research, rated 45% of the university’s social work research as “internationally excellent” and 5% as “world-leading”.
But a university spokesperson said the school was not financially sustainable due to difficulties in attracting research grants in an “increasingly competitive higher education market”.
(Reading social work students and staff talk about the proposed closure)
Quinn said she could not understand these arguments because her department was “good and profitable”, with “excellent partnerships with employers built up over 30 years”.
Students are running an online petition, which has more than 350 signatures. The university council is due to make a final decision on 20 March.
Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, has asked the vice-chancellor to explain the reasons for the recommendation. At a meeting this week, a group of Reading councillors is to ask local authorities in the area to find ways to keep the school open.
Ashleigh Jeppesen, 20, first-year student: “We’re worried what will happen if we fail or have to defer a year. It’s going to be a lot more difficult if the department closes.”
Albina Krasniqi, 29, final-year student: “This course makes a difference to the community. The university is looking at its financial budget rather than the importance to the community.”
Fiona Goussard, social worker at Windsor and Maidenhead Council and PQ student: “The nearest alternative provider is Oxford Brookes University, an hour away. The GSCC is looking at making PQ training compulsory, and the government at promoting social work as a career option – it’s happening at the wrong time.”
- “The government must ensure courses are not axed for commercial reasons” – read the Social Work Blog
- GSCC looks to improve social work degree