Social work education reform ‘doable’ despite no new funding

Universities face an uphill task in reforming the social work degree in the light of higher education budget cuts, according to academics.

The government announced a timetable for overhauling social work education this week as part of its implementation plan for reforming the profession in England. This set out requirements for revised entry criteria, new arrangements for student placements and bursaries, and an overhauled degree curriculum to come into effect by 2012.

Jackie Rafferty, director of the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Social Policy and Social Work (SWAP), said that while the timetable was “doable”, she was concerned that there was no new funding for social work training announced as part of the action plan.

She added that the financial uncertainty for higher education institutions (HEIs) meant that they were operating under “stringent” conditions.

Funding cuts

Earlier this week the Higher Education Funding Council for England announced £7.4bn would be allocated to HEIs in 2010-11, 7% less than the total for 2009-10. Rafferty added that there were “strong concerns that there will be further cuts to come”.

In a joint statement with Sue White, chair of the Association of Professors of Social Work, Rafferty said that while academics may struggle to deliver the reform programme within the financial constraints, they were committed to its aims.

“Social work educators will be very stretched with additional work at the admissions stage, designing and delivering a revised curriculum framework and engaging with the assessed first year of practice and continuing professional development work, whilst also delivering on the commitment to developing the social work research evidence base,” the statement said.

“It’s going to be tough without additional funding but it was tough when the degree was introduced in 2004 and HEIs managed it.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “In 2010/11 the department will continue to provide £100m on social work student support. Both the bursary and practice learning funding will be reviewed.

“Funding for 2011/12 onwards will be the subject of a future spending review.”

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