Social work courses should be protected from changes to university funding in England so that they remain attractive options, experts say.
Lord Browne’s independent review of higher education funding and student finance, the results of which were published yesterday, proposes removing the current cap on tuition fees of £3,290 a year.
At present, fees for social work students in England, usually at least £3,000, are paid for by the Department of Health through social work bursaries.
But the DH is reviewing the £100m-a-year funding for bursaries and practice placements after a recommendation from the Social Work Task Force.
Browne’s review recommends targeting public investment at the teaching of subjects considered “important to the well-being of our society and to our economy”.
However, social work was not on the list of subjects named in the report, although nursing and other healthcare degrees were.
“Were [the list of priority subjects] not to include social work, it would have a definite impact on recruitment,” said Malcolm Golightley, head of the school of health and social care at Lincoln University.
“At the moment recruitment for social work is particularly buoyant, but if fees went up to anything like they are suggesting and students were asked to pay towards their own studies, it could deter people from the profession.”
Tim Chittleburgh, a social care consultant and former chair of the British Association of Social Workers, added that asking social work students to pay towards their studies could make it more difficult for social work to compete with more traditional, long-established professions for entrants.
“I would like to see the government give an assurance that it will continue to [pay social work students’ tuition fees] regardless of any rise in fees or differences between what individual universities may charge in the future.”
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is due to make specific recommendations to parliament after next week’s comprehensive spending review, with a view to implementing the changes for students entering higher education in autumn 2012.
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