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Social Work Education and the Marketisation of UK Universities

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posted on 2023-08-30, 16:24 authored by Teresa Cleary
Social work practice and university provision of social work education in the UK have come under considerable public scrutiny during the past decade. Questions have been raised in the media, professional discourse and government inquires as to whether universities are delivering consistently high standards of graduates into the profession. During the same period structural changes to the provision and funding of universities in the UK have transformed higher education. The rapid expansion of the sector alongside the introduction of fees-based funding has resulted in a ‘market’ in higher education. Students are now consumers, with greater numbers of universities competing for their custom. However, as the sector continues to expand a growing body of critical literature is emerging raising doubts as to the efficacy of this newly marketised university structure. This research therefore asks how marketisation is influencing social work education in UK universities. Although it is acknowledged that there has been an expansion of alternative routes to qualification, this research is exclusively focussed on university provision. Using a dual-stranded study involving a national sample of social work academics, questionnaire and interview data is analysed to present emerging themes based on the expressed views and reported experiences of those working directly within the sector. The study highlights a level of concern regarding the changing academic relationship with students and particularly the role of the National Student Survey (NSS). It raises questions in relation to standards of admissions, teaching and assessment in some institutions. Findings indicate that academics are very aware of the influence of a market-culture within universities but that experiences differ across the sector. There is evidence that consistency of standards may be compromised in some instances but that social work academics feel unable to speak out about this topic whilst working in this highly competitive and uncertain environment. Conclusions have a transformative focus pointing to a need for open, critical and reflective discourse to assist the development of future practice, policy and regulation in this area with the ultimate aim of improving standards of higher education. The study may therefore be of interest to those working in other disciplines, particularly comparable professional courses such as teaching and nursing.



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