University cancels plan to scrap two social work MAs

By Cameron McIntosh

Durham University has withdrawn controversial proposals to discontinue two postgraduate social work courses, following a backlash from staff and students.

A faculty-led review into two masters degrees in social work had previously recommended the University cancel admissions beyond the 2017 intake, amid concerns about their financial viability.

“Social workers offer an essential service for our society, and it is vital that there is a post-graduate route into social work. Durham University social work courses are respected around the world, and it is important for the whole region that these degrees continue to be offered.”

This was followed by a lengthy consultation on the findings of the review, which prompted the University to defer reaching a decision until now. Opposition to the proposals was primarily led by the University and College Union (UCU) but was also supported by students, academics and local figures in the North East. An online petition demanding the courses be preserved garnered 642 signatures.

The University confirmed that the decision to reject the proposals had been taken following a vote held by the Department of Sociology. However, a spokesperson added that it would “continue to assess its provision of academic programmes in line with its strategic priorities.”

Roberta Blackman-Woods, MP for the City of Durham since 2005, expressed relief that the University had decided to withdraw the controversial proposals. In a public post on Facebook, the Labour Party politician stated: “I am very pleased to hear that Durham University has made the decision to continue to offer social work degrees for Masters students.

“Social workers offer an essential service for our society, and it is vital that there is a post-graduate route into social work. Durham University social work courses are respected around the world, and it is important for the whole region that these degrees continue to be offered.”

She went on to state: “Retaining these courses means that Durham University will continue to provide high-quality training for students interested in pursuing a career in social work, and will help improve social work practice in the North East.”

A spokesperson for the UCU, Jon Bryan, also welcomed the announcement: “The social work courses at Durham University have always been highly valued by staff, students and all those who work with them. Social care remains a huge issue both locally and nationally and we are pleased that these courses will continue.”

Durham currently has two postgraduate courses in social work: a one-year MA in International Social Work and Community Development, and a two-year Master of Social Work (MSW).

Photograph: Durham University

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