Degree restriction could damage mental health workforce

Mental health professionals say the withdrawal of government funding for people wishing to study for second degrees will reduce the workforce capacity in the long run.

The universities secretary, John Denham, is shifting £100m towards first-time undergraduates in a bid to encourage more people to enter higher education.

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills denied the move represented a cut in resources, but the Association for Family Therapy said it was effectively “cutting funds for training for professionals to support vulnerable people”.

Dorothy Ramsay chairs the AFT, which represents psychotherapists working with children and families on a range of issues, including relationships and behavioural difficulties.

She said the “short-sighted” decision would create barriers to people wishing to enter the mental health profession, and ultimately hinder access to services.

From September onwards, anyone wishing to take qualifications equivalent or to a lower level than ones they already have will have to show they are “strategically important” and “in the national interest” before they can receive financial support for tuition fees.

This will “drastically reduce the number of people able to train as mental health professionals at the very time the government says it wishes to expand public access to psychological therapies”, Ramsay said.

Professor Peter Stratton, chair of AFT’s academic and research committee, said: “These measures will impact most on those least able to protest –  vulnerable families and individuals struggling  with serious difficulties yet unable to access effective support from qualified and skilled professionals.”

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said in a statement to the Universities, Science and Skills Committee that the move was an “intrinsically fairer way” of spending resources.

It says an extra 5.5 million people will need to go through university by 2020 “if we are to be even on the edge of the premier league for world-class skills”.

However, MPs belonging to the Universities, Science and Skills Committee, which scrutinises the work of the department, criticised ministers for failing to carry out enough research into the strategy.

External information

Association for Family Therapy

Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

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