University of Southampton proposes closing Social Work programmes

Thank you to all those who responded to the consultation and who shared their thoughts here too. The consultation is now closed and we await the outcome.

Apparently there were 94 submissions which is amazing, thank you. 

University Executive Group will make the decision on 21st February 2012


University of Southampton proposes closing it’s Social Work qualifying and post qualifying programmes and is now in a consultation period from 9th December 2011 to 1st February 2012.

This page has been developed to provide information for those wishing to respond to the consultation at  Responses will be summarised and a report taken to the University Executive Group by the Dean on 21st February and the outcome reported to Senate on 29th February.

Hopefully you will respond to the email address above but it would not hurt if copies were sent to the Vice Chancellor either by email to or hard copy to him at the University. Please also post your comments on this blog so that a body of  views and comments can be developed. Please do share the SWSresponse blog address with colleagues.

University formal consultation letter

The University posted a hard copy letter to a number of ‘stakeholders’ on 13th December 2011 and the text of the letter is as follows:

9 December 2011

Social Work Studies postgraduate programmes
I am writing to you as a valued stakeholder in the University of Southampton’s Social Work Studies activities to provide you with some important information and to seek any comments you may have.

Following extensive review and analysis of Social Work Studies activities at Southampton over the past three years, the University has taken a decision to consider closure of its postgraduate programmes – the MSc in Social Work and the MSc in Professional Studies. This would occur when our current students have completed their studies. Southampton is committed to ensuring that internationally excellent research can be found in all our academic disciplines, and that our teaching is strongly informed by this research. We are therefore channelling our resources into the University’s greatest research strengths and reviewing activities within our portfolio of programmes that align with these strategic objectives.

The reputation and quality of the University of Southampton’s Social Work Studies programme and graduates is well recognised, reflecting the high calibre of teaching being undertaken. However, despite a series of initiatives by the University, we have not been able to reach a position where we can meet our overall strategic commitment in this area. We are therefore now entering a period of consultation about managing the necessary changes and their consequences, for both staff and students.

The University is committed to ensuring that our current students will continue to be taught to our established high standards, be enabled to complete successfully all elements of their programmes and that the value of their Southampton qualification continues to be recognised. As valued stakeholders, the University recognises you may wish to contribute to the consultation process and would welcome any comments from you. These can be directed to us by email – The consultation period runs from today, 9 December 2011, through to 1 February 2012. 

If you have any questions at all or would like to discuss this situation in more detail with the University, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Yours sincerely,

Professor Judith Petts
Dean, Faculty of Social & Human Sciences
University of Southampton
Highfield Campus
Southampton SO17 1BJ
Tel: +44 (0)23 8059 5663

Background context

There was an academic review of Social Work Studies (SWS) in the Universityof Southampton in 2009 immediately following the results of the 2008 RAE. The committee included 3 external members, 2 of whom had been members of the RAE sub-panel for Social Policy and Social Work. The review was set up to ‘make recommendations to the University for a clear strategy to ensure a leading national and international academic position for the discipline within a secure and sustainable financial base’.

At no point was closure of the discipline discussed. The review reported in July 2009 and the expectation was that the University, having accepted the report would provide the support for this to be achieved. However since that time senior members of the University of Southampton who were on the review and who were charged with seeing through the recommendations including the Dean of the Faculty of Law Arts and Social Sciences and the Head of the School of Social Sciences have left the University of Southampton. There is therefore little or no informed context for the current decision to close Social Work Studies.

At the time of the 2009 review the SWS Division was a lead income generator in the School by offering, among other things, UG and PG qualifying programmes that had guaranteed fee income provided by the Department of Health. The Division was also recognised for the quality of the education and teaching of the Social Work division, as recorded in league tables and student satisfaction surveys.

Among its many considerations the Panel noted the departure of the Division’s three professors in the previous nine months. While this was acknowledged to leave a significant vacuum of academic leadership, it was also seen to provide an important opportunity for the Division, the School and the University. To this end the University prioritised a professorial appointment in the Child & Family Welfare Centre. Unfortunately that appointment has since left the university. The University has not made a replacement.

There was also a recommendation that an additional senior academic appointment be made at professorial level to lead the Division.  The panel were clear that this role must be separate from the Chair of the Child & Family Welfare Centre. This has not happened

Since the 2009 review rather than devise a clear strategy to ensure that SWS at Southampton achieve its potential the University has managed a period of decline.

Other staff vacancies have not been filled and a diminishing staff group with little research leadership has been asked to both deliver high quality professional education and continue to research and publish at levels of international excellence defined by non-social work criteria.  Meanwhile the University also closed the UG programme which had a history of successful recruitment and, as has been said, provided guaranteed fee income. On the basis of these management decisions the University is proposing to close the social work programmes and thus by implication the Division of Social Work

2010 review

Information was provided to Social Work Studies staff in hard copy at a meeting on 8th December an excerpt from that information follows:

In March 2010 UEG approved a business plan for the programme with the following key features:
 Closure of the UG qualifying programme in Social Work (currently being taught out)
 A realignment to correspond to future academic direction
 Development of the Child Wellbeing Centre as a University hub for multidisciplinary research
 Expansion of PG provisions to include CPD and DL
 Step change in research performance
 Internationalisation of recruitment
 A three year academic and financial transition programme

October 2011 review

During the summer of 2011 a replacement for the departing Chair was advertised but no shortlist was approved. A second attempt in August to recruit a Chair, a Reader and a Lecturer resulted in the shortlist panel recommending a shortlist for all three posts. The view was taken by the Dean that the Chair had to be recruited first and that none of the candidates put forward were suitable and therefore no interviews would take place. Shortly afterwards a further review was announced to be undertaken by an small group from within the School of Social Sciences with one academic from Health Sciences. This group were given the following remit:

To review progress made towards the achievement of the various goals set out in the SWS business plan approved by UEG in 2010 [an outcome of the Post RAE 2008 review of SWS]. In particular, to consider whether there have been any material developments in relation to the ‘Risks’ or ‘Opportunities’ identified by the previous Head of School (Social Work Studies Business Plan 2010-14) and the implications of these for the future viability, direction and development potential of SWS, with particular reference to the following issues:

  • Staffing and recruitment progress
  • REF preparation and submission
  • Research income
  • Collaboration and links within and across Faculties
  • Financial performance of the teaching programmes
  • Fit of SWS with the new Faculty Strategic Plan

The review group came up with the following options:

1. Maintenance of the status quo.
2. Merger of SWS with Sociology and Social Policy.
3. Relocation to the Faculty of Health Sciences.
4. Closure of SWS programmes.


The Dean took Option 3 to the University Executive Group on 9th December and it was agreed to consult with Health Sciences. No discussion followed  between Health Sciences and the Social Work staff. Indeed the Health Sciences academic on the review group was not able to make the meeting Social Work staff had with the review group.   The Faculty of Health Sciences concluded that a transfer was not a viable option. Reasons included a lack of strategic alignment and ability to maintain and build provision for the programme in such a competitive environment.

A second report with these findings was submitted by the Dean to UEG on 6 December. where the Dean recommended the most appropriate option as closure of the Social Work Studies programmes in Summer 2013. The recommendation to pursue option 4 (Closure) was endorsed by UEG.

There has been no explanation or rationale offered as to why it was not possible for the other options to be explored. Indeed apparently a meeting of Professors in Sociology and Social Policy saw a number of synergies in both research and teaching if Social Work Studies were to merge with them.

At no time have the External Examiners, the original review group, or any external social work academics or employers been invited to be involved in discussions about the future of  the social work programmes prior to the University Executive Group decisions. As far as can be ascertained no informed view of the role of the social work programmes regionally or nationally been sought nor the implications of the Social Work Reform Board or the Munro Report. Colleagues will be aware that we do not yet know the outcome for the future of the bursary.

The University notified UCAS it would not be admitting students to the 2012 Masters in Social Work programme as soon as the UEG decision to close the social work programmes. The programme recruits strongly and increased its numbers for the 2011 intake whilst teaching out the last year of the undergraduate programme.

Governance at the University has changed in the last five years and power has been centralised to the University Executive Group and appointed Deans appear to be unable to be challenged. Senate is now for information and advice not decision making. There appears to be no formal process for closing programmes, other than UEG decision.  It is understood that the consultation currently taking place is a ‘good practice’ consultation rather than part of a formal closure process. It is not thought the decision needs to be taken to University Council.

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Decision to close the programmes

Yesterday, 21st February 2012, the University Executive Group confirmed it would close the social work programmes at the University of Southampton.

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Consultation response points

The previous post described what was happening at the University of Southampton in relation to the proposal to close the Social Work Programmes. The consultation runs to the 1st February 2012 and details of whom to write to are in the previous post. This post focuses on three major points which may help inform your response to the consultation.

Consultation response address is

They are:

1. Process

The University agreed a 5 year business plan for the Social Work Studies Division in March 2010 with an acknowledgement that this would require support from the University, Faculty and School. Less than two years after this decision they set up an internal review which has led to a recommendation for closure. The factors that have influenced the decision are:

  • At the time of setting up the University made the decision to close the very successful undergraduate programme, hence reducing the income of the Division.
  • On the retirement and departure of various senior members of staff in the Division the University mismanaged the recruitment for replacement staff which meant there were no interviews held and therefore no replacements found.
  • Shortlists for three posts approved by the shortlisting panel were blocked by the Dean and no interviews were allowed to go ahead
  • The University has changed its ‘strategic vision’.

Hence Social Work Studies Division is being closed because of actions (and lack of actions) on the part of the University.

The decision to close the Division has been made after consultation on only one possible other option out of four options put forward by the review group (i.e. incorporation into Health Sciences). It is known that other Divisions were willing to consider the incorporation of Social Work. The review group were purely internal and included no-one with firsthand experience of the Social Work programme and representations to have external social work academic expertise included were refused.

2. Research capability

The stated reason for closure staff of the Social Work Division are deemed by the University to be because it is not meeting targets (set by the University) for research excellence. This is based on:

  • The results of the last Research Assessment Exercise. Interpretation of these results for Social Work are complex and were addressed in an external review in 2009 – which led to the Business plan. Also other units of assessment in the University of Southampton that did not score as highly as Social Work or had similar results have not (yet) been targeted for closure.
  • Assessment has been made of the likely upcoming Research Exercise Framework performance of social work staff. Unlike in many other universities this has been done with no reference to the criteria for assessing Social Work outputs and with no external Social Work expert assessment.
  • This assessment does not acknowledge that, despite the heavy teaching load created by the University because of the failure to replace staff, all eligible academic staff currently in post will have achieved the necessary targets for the next assessment of research (the forthcoming REF).

3.  Research capacity for social work

The Social Work Taskforce, the Social Work Reform Board and the Munro report all recognise the need for both highly qualified social workers and an increased evidence base. If social work education is lost from a research intensive university it has an obvious knock on effect on the current push to develop capacity  in social work research.

Universities are looking for even junior lecturers to have a PhD, routes to doctoral study in social work in the UK are few and far between. Majority of people undertaking doctoral study in social work are practitioners studying part time. Provision for higher level study therefore needs to be relatively local.

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