A recruitment crisis could erupt if social work students are left to foot the bill for their own training, senior academics have warned.
Jackie Rafferty, Hilary Tompsett and Sue White, the leaders of three bodies representing social work lecturers, have written to ministers, warning that any removal of bursaries for social work students could result in significant personal debts and a shortage of applicants.
The letter said this was particularly worrying “at a time of increasing need for family and community strengthening”.
Earlier this month, universities minister David Willetts announced the government’s proposals for higher education funding in England in response to Lord Browne’s independent review of higher education funding and student finance. The plans, under which students face increased tuition fees of up to £9,000, prompted violent protests in London last week.
Fees for social work students in England, currently at least £3,000, are paid by the Department of Health through social work bursaries – but this is under review.
Rafferty, Tompsett and White said no decisions should be made about bursaries until the government had decided whether to include social work on the list of subjects which will continue to receive targeted public investment.
Browne recommended that subjects considered “important to the well-being of our society and to our economy”, such as nursing and other healthcare degrees, should continue to receive funding.
Social work was not on the list, but the government has yet to make a final decision on which subjects to include.
Rafferty, director of the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Social Policy and Social Work, Tompsett, chair of the Joint University Council’s Social Work Education Committee, and White, chair of the Association of Professors of Social Work, argued that social work was “strategically important in terms of social returns”.
Rafferty added: “If students can’t afford to qualify, that puts social work programmes at risk.”
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