Government ‘looking at’ scrapping social work bursaries

Department of Health declines to comment on 'leak' that proposals to axe social work grants could be tabled next month

Social work students
Photo: David Oxberry/Mood Board/Rex (posed by models)

The government is considering scrapping grant funding given to thousands of social work students each year, Community Care has learned.

Sources said government officials want to cut the outlay on social work bursaries after becoming concerned degree programmes are producing too many graduates ill-equipped for practice.

One source said the government is likely to include proposals to abolish social work bursaries in a consultation being launched next month on plans to replace nursing course bursaries with student loans.

An option to axe undergraduate social work bursaries but maintain postgraduate support in some form could be included in the consultation, the source added.

Another source said the social work bursary was “on its way out”. The government’s growing support for fast-track training programmes, such as Frontline, signalled “the death knell” for bursaries, they said. This is because the grants were designed to attract students onto social work degrees, which are now out of favour.

The fast-track schemes, which receive government funding, are not covered by the Department of Health bursary system and instead pay their trainees between £16,000 and £19,000 a year (a breakdown of the student support on different courses can be found here).

A Department of Health spokesperson declined to comment on “a leak”.

Applications for bursaries for the 2016-17 academic year are due to open in March.

The bursaries

The basic social work bursary, which is not means tested, is currently worth up to £3,762 a year for postgraduate students and £5,262 a year for undergraduates. An additional tuition fee contribution of £4,052 can be paid directly to universities

Since April 2013 the government has capped bursaries to around 4,100 new students a year. The scheme costs around £70m annually.

The bursaries, which are administered by the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBA) on behalf of the government, were introduced alongside the social work degree in 2003. Both were a response to a fall in applications to social work courses in the 1990s.

There are now concerns within government that social work degrees are producing too many graduates who are not ‘practice ready’. This has led to renewed scrutiny of both degree courses and the bursary system. It has also seen ministers increasingly turn to fast-track schemes, which target ‘high performing’ graduates and claim to offer more practice-based learning than traditional degrees, in an effort to improve the quality of trainees.

Expansion of fast-track training

This month the Department for Education pledged an extra £100m in funding for the Frontline and Step up to Social Work fast-track programmes. The courses will train one in four new children’s social workers by 2020.

At the time, social work leaders raised concerns over the “inequity of funding” between fast-track and mainstream university social work degrees.

Those concerns will intensify if bursary funding is abolished.

The social work bursary scheme was challenged in two government-commissioned reviews of social work education.

Professor David Croisdale-Appleby’s report, which was commissioned by the Department of Health, recommended phasing out undergraduate bursaries but maintaining postgraduate bursary funding, possibly as a means-tested grant.

He concluded: “That we are qualifying too many students, and in a situation when support funding for social work education is strictly limited, there are greater priorities than maintaining the current number of student bursaries which could be reduced.”

Sir Martin Narey reviewed social work training on behalf of the Department for Education. His report found some evidence that the bursary system had helped increase the diversity of social work trainees but also heard concerns it incentivised some students who were “primarily motivated by the non-means tested financial support” on offer.

Like Croisdale-Appleby, Narey suggested targeting bursary support at postgraduate students.

He said: “When satisfaction with social workers coming through the masters route remains relatively high, and when we can have far greater confidence about their raw intellectual ability, it is important that bursary scheme arrangements do not halt the growth in the proportion of social workers taking the postgraduate route.

“Indeed, I would go further: there is a case for further tilting support in favour of funding for masters students.”

5 Responses to Government ‘looking at’ scrapping social work bursaries

  1. Jennifer Peterson January 25, 2016 at 2:00 pm #

    why is there no support for people who have worked in the field for years and need additional support to repeat the 3rd year of their degree.

    The Government and society always moan about the lack of social work professionals. But in theory the country is dependent of those who qualify yet lack experience.

    Why is there no opportunities for long term experienced social care workers. Who are passionate, dependable but need academic support.

  2. Old School January 25, 2016 at 2:33 pm #

    Undergraduate Student bursaries were doomed the day the government took away any funding for first year students a few years ago and then gave second and third year UG’s a bursary based on some totally irrational idea from the government.
    The only way the government wants Social Workers to qualify is via the Step Up or Frontline programmes based on the principles of Teach First or rather what Josh Macalister and his right wing Tory think tank believe social work should represent in their narrow minded view of the big society. What we are sleep-walking into as a profession is the re-branding of social work away from University based teaching and learning to on the job training by the employer according to what the government wants in its social engineering programme for the 21st century. We deserve leaders like Isabelle Trowler and Guru’s like Josh Macalister because we have no voice and fight left in us.

    • Trevor Chapman January 26, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

      How come it is OK for social workers to criticise social work training and when it is turned around it becomes a conspiracy against the “profession”? There are plenty of time serving ” practice tutors ” who have bought into their status but are useless practitioners who make the life of trainee’s miserable who now might have to bow and scrape to Tory sponsored graduates and I am all for that. Bring back the vocation and get rid of the pseudo professionals.

  3. Tammy January 26, 2016 at 3:19 pm #

    I detest the Tories more and more each day. They’re destroying social work. I’m sickened.

  4. Matthew Knight January 26, 2016 at 3:38 pm #

    Making the grants that are currently provided into loans, and now removing bursaries is totally senseless. With huge debt, relatively low pay and the daily bashing Social Workers get – who would want to choose a career in Social Work?!

    I want to say how hugely shocking this is – but nothing really surprises me with the current government.