Social work leaders have hailed university undergraduate courses’ success in recruiting a diverse student population after official figures showed them outstripping other courses in recruiting Black, disadvantaged and older candidates.
In 2019, social work courses topped the league in the proportion of Black applicants, the proportion of students aged over 30 accepted onto courses and the ratio of disadvantaged to advantaged applicants, showed the figures released by UCAS.
Chief social workers for adults in England Mark Harvey and Fran Leddra strongly welcomed the figures.
“We are so pleased to see that social work is the most diverse undergraduate course in terms of race, background, and age,” they said. “Equality and inclusion are core values of social work and integral to its purpose to uphold human rights and promote social justice. As chief social workers, we are committed to ensuring our workforce is reflective of the people we serve and the communities they live in.”
Their colleague Mark Trewin, the lead on mental health social work in the chief social worker’s office at the Department of Health and Social Care, tweeted: “This is a very positive and interesting study. Great to see social work with a diverse education base. Still a long way to go – especially in eventually supporting people into leadership roles, but a positive start.”
What the figures show
The UCAS figures showed that, in 2019:
- Twenty one per cent of applicants to social work undergraduate courses were Black, the highest for all courses, for which 9% of applicants were Black.
- A higher proportion, 23%, of those accepted onto undergraduate courses were Black, compared with 9% for all subjects.
- Overall, 34% of applicants for social work courses were from Black Asian and minority ethnic groups, as were 36% of those accepted.
- Forty two per cent of those accepted onto social work courses were aged over 30, the highest of any subject.
- Social work was the only subject that had more applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds than from the most advantaged backgrounds, with 0.94 applicants from the most advantaged group for every application from the disadvantaged group.
- There was an even bigger difference in relation to acceptances, with 0.69 people accepted onto social work courses from the most advantaged group for every one person from a disadvantaged background accepted.
Postgraduate courses also have a strong record on diversity, with Skills for Care’s latest annual report on social work education showing that 36% of those who enrolled on courses in 2018 being from a BAME group. Also 51% of postgraduate students enrolling that year were aged over 30, compared with 31% on all postgraduates courses.
Fast-track diversity concerns
Concerns have been raised about fast-track providers Frontline and Think Ahead’s record on diversity, as well as that related to the Step Up to Social Work programme.
The 2016 evaluation of Frontline found that, compared with mainstream programmes, its participants were more likely to be younger, white, from higher socioeconomic backgrounds and to have attended one of the elite Russell Group universities.
There has been significant increases in the proportion of students who were eligible for free school meals, rising form 5% in 2017, to 16% in 2018 and 19% in 2019. There has also been progress, though slower, in the proportions from black Asian and minority ethnic communities, who made up 15% of the 2017 cohort and 18% of the 2018 and 2019 groups and 22% of the incoming 2020 intake.
The evaluation of the first two cohorts of Step Up found that students were “disproportionately white”. This relates to practitioners who joined the 14-month programme in 2010 and 2012; no more up-to-date figures appear to be available.
Self-reported figures from Think Ahead in 2017 showed that 16% of students were from BAME backgrounds, well below the average for postgraduate social work courses. Again, no more recent figures appear to be available.