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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.