Students accepted onto social work degree courses fear they’ll be unable to take up places due to an “unacceptable” delay to government decisions on bursary funding.
Universities and students have received no confirmation of social work bursary allocations or placement funding grants for the forthcoming academic year, which starts in September.
The situation has created anxiety and uncertainty for prospective students, with some reportedly shelving plans to take-up study this year for fear of being left without a bursary and unable to afford their course.
Social work academics labelled the delay unprecedented and “unacceptable”, particularly as the Department of Health (DH) had promised to announce funding allocations by the beginning of June.
Contacted by Community Care about the concerns, the DH said sign-off on allocations had been delayed but insisted bursaries would be provided for 2016 and an announcement made shortly.
Anna Gupta, a senior lecturer at Royal Holloway University, said it was “completely unacceptable” students and universities had been left in limbo so close to courses starting.
She said: “Students aren’t able to plan for September, which is less than two months away. We have students with caring responsibilities, many of them are working currently, so they need to serve notice for their jobs or work out other issues before starting the course. But they can’t because they have received no indication of their bursaries.
“I know from talking to colleagues there are other universities where students have pulled out from MA programmes because of the uncertainty. The delay is really disrespectful to students and academics. I worry it demonstrates a lack of commitment on the part of government to traditional academic routes into social work, given they have been very forthcoming with large sums of money for fast-track training programmes.”
Brid Featherstone, co-chair of the Association of Professors of Social Work, said the situation was “deeply unsatisfactory”, adding: “It’s causing a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty for future social workers and I can’t understand why the government cannot make a statement on the reasons for the delay in order to keep people informed. This is an established process. It has never, to my knowledge, been as late as this.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said social work bursaries would be provided for the next academic year. Sign-off on allocations had been delayed because of ministerial changes at the DH and Department for Education but details “will be published shortly”, they added.
While the DH is committed to social work bursaries for the 2016 academic year, the government is considering scrapping the financial support for future years. Ministers have promised a consultation on bursaries later this year.