End of Reading University’s social work courses sparks complaints

Staff and students at the University of Reading have reacted angrily to the governing body’s decision to close the social work department by 2011.

The university council voted in favour of the proposal after an internal review questioned its “strategic importance” to the institution.

However, students said governors had overlooked the school of health and social care’s importance to the local community. Reading Council, which uses the university’s post-qualifying social work programmes, had already warned that the closure would exacerbate shortages of practitioners in the area.

Social responsibilities

Alan Budd, a mature second-year student, helped launch an online petition to save the department that gained nearly 700 signatures from staff, students and others. He felt a “great sense of frustration and injustice” that their views had not been taken into account.

“It is as if the university views itself as existing in a vacuum, and does not recognise its responsibilities to society,” he said.

Ashleigh Jeppesen, 20, a first-year student, said: “It’s sad that Reading are losing such a great course and all the things that come with it, like the work in the community that the students do.”

Lecturer: “Finances are strong”

The university’s director of social work studies, Ann Quinn, who had lobbied against the proposal for two months, was “bitterly disappointed by the decision”.

“We presented a strong case against closure; we are academically and financially strong, and we had very good support from local employers and from social work professional bodies.”

Course is “respected”

Students also posted their reactions to the impending closure on Community Care’s online discussion forum, CareSpace. One third-year student, Chelle, said everyone was “shocked and saddened”, adding: “Social work at Reading is a well respected course, students do well, it has been praised by the General Social Care Council and benefits the local community enormously.”

A 2008 survey for the Higher Education Funding Council for England found 83% of social work students at Reading were satisfied with the course.

MP “disappointed”

Rob Wilson, the Conservative MP for Reading East, said the news was “very disappointing”, especially after two Berkshire councils, Reading and Wokingham, received ‘inadequate’ ratings for safeguarding in Ofsted’s 2008 annual performance assessments.

“One of the biggest issues in social services locally is that children are being failed, and anything that can help with the training and motivation and standing of social workers must be beneficial.”

Wilson said he wrote to the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills to enquire about alternative funding sources several weeks ago and also raised the matter with care services minister Phil Hope, for the university. He is still awaiting responses.  


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