The number of people enrolling for social work degrees has fallen for the fourth year in a row.
A Skills for Care report found that the number of students joining postgraduate and undergraduate social work courses in England slipped from 4,590 in 2013/14 to 4,410 in 2014/15 – a 4% decline.
Enrolments have been declining from a peak of 5,750 students in 2010/11, the year that Parliament backed increasing the cap on tuition fees to £9,000 a year. However, the figures do not include enrolments on graduate programmes such as Frontline or Step Up to Social Work.
Postgraduate courses have seen the steepest decline with enrolments falling from 1,540 in 2013/14 to 1,400 in 2014/15. Undergraduate enrolments fell from 3,050 for 3,010 in the same period.
The report also found that the number of graduates leaving university with a social work qualification is now at its lowest since 2009/10. In 2009/10 a total of 5,220 students completed a social work degree, in 2014/15 there were 4,700.
Women continued to account for an increasing majority of students – 86.4% in 2014/15 compared to 83% in 2011/12.
Supply and demand mismatch
The percentage of graduates entering employment as social workers continued to rise, up from 64.3% in 2013/14 to 66.7% in 2014/15 but the actual numbers becoming social workers fell from 3,020 to 2,890 in the same period.
The report said the figures have “implications for workforce planning because the number of graduates is likely to continue to fall” given the declining number of enrolments.
Skills for Care’s report also noted that social work graduates are less likely to find employment if they graduated from areas with more students. The North West, for example, was the region with the highest number of students qualifying in social work but it also had the lowest proportion of students finding a social work job within six months.
“This may be due to a supply and demand mismatch at regional and local level,” said the report. “In such cases, those graduates who are unable to find employment as social workers would have to either relocate or take employment in an alternative role.”
The report also found that people with postgraduate social work qualifications are more likely to find social works than undergraduates. An estimated 72% of postgraduates found social work jobs within six months compared to 64% of undergraduates.
“This may be due to these graduates having greater work and life experience,” said the report.