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.


About swsresponse

The blog for discussing the proposed closure of the Social Work programmes at the University of Southampton. Deadline for responses 1st February 2012
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3 Responses to Consultation response points

  1. swsresponse says:

    Professor Sue White wrote the following as her response:

    Dear Professor Petts
    Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to comment on the planned closure of the postgraduate provision in social work at the University of Southampton. Having acted as the external in the recent recruitment of a Chair and other posts, I received the news of this plan with some dismay. It has also been very badly received in the sector and within policy and practice circles, coming, as it does, in the wake of a programme of reform of social work, which places research back at the heart of the profession. I am somewhat perplexed that the recent recruitment process did not reach fruition. I know some of the applicants to the posts at various levels, and from my perspective as outgoing Chair of the Association of Professors of Social Work and an external on many panels, I cannot see a reason, prima facie, why the University did not proceed to interview. Your letter states that the social work programme has been unable to meet the University’s overall strategic commitment, by which I assume you refer to the requirements of the REF. There has been steady attrition of social work staff at senior levels, which will clearly have had an impact on those remaining. One imagines that this was the rationale for the recent attempts to recruit, which as I understand it, themselves follow from a recent review which reached a polar opposite conclusion to your own it would seem.
    There are many reasons why social work needs its place in research intensive universities. It is highly complex and analytical profession as is outlined in the recent Munro Review of child protection in England, on which I served. It also has strong support of the current Coalition government which has a number of policy initiatives focused on families with complex needs. It wants the best people, with best education working in the field, as Tim Loughton, the children’s minister, has stated on any number of occasions.
    For sure, social work programmes are labour intensive and they need institutional support. At Birmingham, I am pleased to say, we have that support, with our Vice Chancellor showing a clear commitment to civic engagement alongside research excellence. This needs investment and imagination. At Birmingham we have established the Birmingham Social Work Academy in partnership with the City. We are also beginning to explore the possibility of alternatives routes into an academic career for experienced senior practitioners and managers in order to keep our scholarly community lively and attract the best people. This seems to me to rather more in the spirit of the reforms to higher education than an exclusive focus on 4* publications, however important these may also be to a vibrant academic life.
    Social work is an empirical profession. It requires a strong evidence base and research minded practitioners. Universities can benefit from this directly, through methodological innovation, access to under-researched communities, real community engagement and clear impact. Indeed, the very origins of modern social work lie in the pioneering work of the Chicago School, rooted as Mary Richmond notes robustly in the social sciences:
    “There can be no question that family case workers are in an exceptional position to make valuable observations upon family life at first hand where they are protected, as they should be, from too large a case-load, and where they have had the kind of theoretical training in social science and practical training in social work which supplies them with the necessary background. ‘The interplay,’ says Professor [Robert] Park [sociologist], ‘of the attractions, tensions, and accommodations of personalities in the intimate bonds of family life have up to the present found no concrete description or adequate analysis in sociological inquiry.’” (1922, pp. 227-228).
    It seems to me to be most untimely for Southampton to be making this decision when these factors are producing a new settlement for universities and for social work in which the latter should be able to flourish within the former. No doubt you have considered this decision carefully. However, I urge you to consider it again.
    Yours sincerely

    Sue White
    Professor of Social Work (Children and Families)
    University of Birmingham.

  2. swsresponse says:

    Professor Lena Dominelli has submitted the following:

    Dear Review Panel

    I am writing to express my consternation and dismay at the proposed closure of the social work course at Southampton. The course has a very high reputation amongst its colleagues and has produced skilled and proficient practitioners in its many guises since 1937 when it hosted and offered a new start in life to Jewish refugees.

    The loss to British social work through such a closure would be enormous. It should not be allowed to happen and you have the power to ensure that it does not. I urge you to provide the course with the support it deserves and ensure that it continues with its important work in teaching and research.

    Yours sincerely

    Professor Lena Dominelli
    Durham University

  3. swsresponse says:

    Submission from Joint University Council – Social Work Education Committee and the Association of Professors of Social Work has gone in and was as follows:

    Social Work at Southampton – Submission from JUC SWEC (Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee) and APSW (Association of Professors of Social Work)
    Response to Consultation to Proposed Closure of Social Work Studies Activities
    As the learned society for social work, JUC SWEC, together with APSW, (both key organizations committed to social work research and education) , wish to express their extreme dismay at the proposal to close the social work programmes at Southampton, and in effect to bring to an end an important aspect of the university’s historic tradition, especially in terms of applied scholarship and community engagement. We would urge you to reconsider this proposal.

    Social work is an applied discipline. It needs to be recognised that the contribution and impact of the social work discipline must be judged not just as an academic discipline, but in a variety of ways and against a number of distinctive criteria, especially those which might be recognised in terms of social benefit and the university’s contribution to, and impact upon, the well-being of the diverse communities it serves. There is no doubt that social work at Southampton has been a major source of benefit to the academic, research and professional communities it serves, and this is widely recognised throughout the profession and the discipline.

    Alongside the argument for a ‘wider view’ of the benefits that social work brings as a discipline, we also want to stress its current and potential contribution in the specific sphere of research excellence and impact on professional practice. Social work has been gaining strength as a research discipline in recent years, with success in gaining support from ESRC and through this in establishing a significant presence in the recently established Doctoral Training Centres in social science. Social work academics, too, have been gaining recognition, through admission to the Academy of Social Sciences, for example, and achieving a healthy level of funding for their research, in challenging times. The discipline has also been acknowledged as a source of innovation and progress in methodological development, notably in areas of research, which rely on the inclusion and representation of ‘user’ perspectives. Southampton has been a lead player in many of these research developments.

    Southampton has also been regarded as a strong provider of postgraduate routes to the social work qualification, a route attracting increasing support from employers and government departments responsible for social work in children and adult services. Losing a postgraduate programme in the south of England could be detrimental to professional opportunities in the region. Social work education, at both qualifying and post qualifying levels, has always promoted universities’ important strategic place in local (and national) economies, providing a supply of and supporting professionals for work in local employment. Universities need to be able to demonstrate employability for their students, current and future, particularly in the light of revisions to fee structures and professional bursaries. Engagement with employers and other stakeholders in decisions about professional courses is therefore vital, and we would question whether there has been sufficient consideration given to this, given the timescale and timing of the proposed closure.

    The Social Work and Policy subject centre of the Higher Education Academy was until very recently hosted by Southampton University and played a key part in supporting universities across the country, contributing also to Southampton’s reputation as a leader in learning and teaching (and research) and in social work, nationally and internationally.
    In this context, it is surprising therefore that Southampton, traditionally highly regarded in this discipline, should be so willing to forego the opportunity of being involved in potentially exciting developments associated with the discipline, as it progresses and continues to make significant contributions, both methodologically and in terms of concrete and influential research outputs, and at a time of significant national professional reform and change. These possibilities, combined with the sustained role of social work in ‘doing good’, make an almost irresistible case for continuing to make a meaningful and genuine commitment to the discipline.
    In the event that the proposed closure is reversed, the university can be assured of the continued commitment of the wider social work academic community to collaborate closely with colleagues at Southampton and to offer our continued support in pursuit of the discipline’s further development and success.

    Professor Hilary Tompsett (Chair, JUC SWEC, Vice Chair General Social Care Council, Chair of Social Work Reform Board’s and College of Social Work’s Education Groups
    Professor Roger Smith (Chair, JUC SWEC Research Sub Committee),
    Professors Aidan Worsley and Brigid Daniel (Joint Chairs, APSW)

    30th January 2012

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