Social work in higher education : demise or development?
A prolonged period of Conservative government in Britain (1979-1997) has resulted in profound changes in the nature of social welfare, including education. One of the characteristics of this period has been a decrease in the status and autonomy accorded to professions; and a change in the relationship between 'the providers' and 'the consumers' of services. More specifically, the years from 1989 to the mid nineties have been marked by rapid legislative and organisational change in the personal social services. They have also seen significant change in the institutional policies and culture of higher education. Changes in both these sectors have impacted on the arrangements for the education of social workers, responsibility for which is shared between the professional accrediting body, employing agencies and higher education institutions. The starting point for this research was a recognition that, in line with other moves promoting deprofessionalisation and instrumentalism, qualifying training might be relocated outside the higher education system. An initial question, 'can social work survive in higher education?', prompted an exploration of the external influences and internal characteristics which have resulted in this sense of vulnerability. The research utilised interdisciplinary perspectives, grounded in a policy framework, and an inductive approach to collection of empirical data, to examine the view that social work education is open to conflicting policies and values from higher education and the professional field. The possibility that the subject would share similarities with other forms of professional education was also examined. The thesis therefore presents a case study of the epistemology and relationships of a particular form of professional education. Consideration of the literature pertaining to the three contextual factors, social work, higher education and professional education, and of the empirical data derived from social work educators support the concluding argument. This posits that biography, culture and structure interact to produce a discipline with inherent tensions, partly due to its position on a boundary between two systems and partly reflecting the nature of the subject. While its location within higher education is deemed appropriate by social work educators, decisions about its location and form are largely exercised by other interest groups: its survival and development therefore require constant negotiation.