Overseas social work students being set up to fail

Universities are often allowing overseas students onto social work courses in Scotland whose written and spoken English is not good enough.

The finding is in a report  “Enhancing Outcomes for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Social Work Students in Scotland” commissioned by Scotland’s seven main universities as well as the Scottish Social Services Council.

“There are pressures from the university authorities to get international students onto courses, especially for their added economic value,” the report claimed.

However, while students might have written and spoken English good enough to manage every day life, many struggled with the sophisticated levels of interpersonal communication needed for social work.

“The phrase setting students up to fail, or similar, was used by several tutors in relation to admitting BME students,” the report stated.

Overseas students also often struggled with the knowledge of the UK benefits system and with Scottish accents, dialects and slang. On top of this they were often dealing with high levels of stress around the financial and personal sacrifices made to study in Scotland and strict visa requirements.

While many BME students had experienced indirect forms of racism, “perhaps less predictably, some black students who were born in the UK were observed to face discrimination, not based on the colour of their skin, but on their regional origin and accent. This illustrates some of the complexity of racism in Scotland,” the authors pointed out.

Many tutors also felt that anti-racism theory had been watered down in the current curriculum leaving BME student social workers vulnerable to indirect racism from other social workers, students and even educators in Scotland.

Organisations taking practice placements often disliked taking on BME students, focusing on the challenges they presented rather than any strengths such as bilingual ability and wider cultural awareness.

More generally BME students, both overseas and UK born, faced cultural problems within social work such as different values and perceptions on how to bring up a child. Similarly, many women from black and ethnic minority groups also struggled with authoritarian practice, particularly telling men what to do because of the cultural issues in their background.

An overseas student’s experience of trauma such as war and genocide could also distort a student’s perception of risk in the care and assessment of service users, the report found.

However, the authors pointed out that “the growing population of immigrants to Scotland along with the apparent decline in numbers of BME social work students is a point of concern”.

It recommended more support for BME students including:
• Learning materials on Scotland as a country, UK social work and social work education to be made available to students prior to commencing their study.
• Extending the personal tutor system across all social work students and expanding the opportunities for mentoring and peer support.
• Expanding the nature of learning resources on anti-racism and cultural competence.
• Encouraging universities to provide more support with writing and speaking English for students on professional courses and proof-reading services.

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