Reading Council is calling on neighbouring authorities to lobby against its local university’s proposal to close its social work department, which it claims will exacerbate recruitment problems in the area.
The University of Reading’s management board recommended closing the school of health and social care by 2011 after concluding it was not financially viable in the long term. The university’s governing body, the council, will make a final decision on 20 March.
Reading Council’s chief executive, Michael Coughlin, has written to the university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Gordon Marshall, to express the authority’s “deep concern” at the plan.
A motion passed by Reading Council called on the university to recognise the school’s importance to the community in attracting new entrants to social work and providing post-qualifying training. The motion said it should work with Berkshire councils “to investigate ways of keeping the school operating for the benefit of local people”.
Delay decision until Taskforce reports
Although the proposed closure would not take place until 2011, allowing existing students to finish courses, the council wants the decision to be delayed until after the Social Work Taskforce publishes its final report this autumn.
The government-appointed taskforce will recommend ways of improving the status and quality of social work in England, after examining all aspects of training and support.
Student demonstration planned
The proposal has already provoked angry protests from students, lecturers and practitioners, who accused the university of putting its own financial situation before the needs of the community.
Students are planning a demonstration outside a meeting of the university senate next week, where the future of the school of health and social care will be discussed. Protesters have also organised a public meeting in Reading Town Hall on 16 March.
Decision due later this month
The Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee, which represents colleges and universities providing social work training across the UK, is also opposed.
Vice chair of the committee, Professor Jonathan Parker, said: “It seems absurd, or at the very least unhelpful, to pursue closure at this time of this highly respected programme, that enjoys positive relations with local employers.”
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