Academics press for protected social work training funds

Academics are urging the social work sector to press for protected training resources in the face of higher education funding cuts of more than £700m.

The government announced at the end of 2009 that the higher education budget in England would be cut by £135m in 2010-11 to cover the higher costs of supporting students during the recession, while the pre-budget report said a further £600m in efficiency savings should be made by 2013.

Sue White, chair of the Association of Professors of Social Work, urged employers and universities to lobby for the protection of social work training budgets or face reductions in the number of degree courses available.

The University of Reading decided to close its social work degree course last year from 2011 onwards after deciding its school of health and social care was of “limited strategic importance”.

White said it was too early to say whether the cuts would force other universities to follow suit, but added: “If any programmes have a shaky position within their overall institution then they are going to be vulnerable.”

Jill Manthorpe, director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London, said: “We need a more sophisticated model of workforce planning in order to identify the level of finance needed for social work training.”

A spokesperson for the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) said that the funding for social work degree programmes would not be ringfenced.

“We allocate funding in the form of block grants, and it’s up to the institutions to decide how to spend the money,” the spokesperson said.

Hefce will announce the overall funding settlement for universities in England for 2010-11 on 17 March.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the 2010-11 funding for student bursaries and placements for social work degree programmes in England, which currently stands at £100m, had not been decided yet.

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