No sense in school closure

February 26, 2009

The senior management board (SMB) at the University of Reading has recommended the closure of its School of Health and Social Care on the grounds that it is not viable ("Institutions draw up plans for closures and job losses", 19 February).

But the school is in the top half of the university's research departments, as measured by the recent research assessment exercise, has increased its research income every year for the past six years, and has consistently run a financial surplus.

The SMB claims that the school is too small, but there are options to merge it with other schools in the university. Sadly, these have been dismissed out of hand by the board.

The SMB further claims that the school lacks "strategic importance". But what is strategically important to Reading? A major component of the school is training social workers, an activity that it has successfully sustained for the past 30 years.

There is a serious national shortage of social workers - one in seven social work posts nationally is unfilled - and the Government wants to increase recruitment. The school is in an excellent position to help deliver this, as recruitment is buoyant.

Its social work programmes are of excellent quality, as confirmed by the General Social Care Council, the official accrediting body for social work training, at a recent external review. Moreover, neighbouring local authorities rely heavily on these programmes to recruit new social workers and to train and update their existing staff. The school offers the only such programmes in Berkshire, and its closure will profoundly affect local social work services.

This isn't the logical plan we require from our university management. The SMB has yet to come up with a coherent strategy for tackling the university's financial position and for developing the institution in the coming decades.

Ann Quinn, Jan Keene and Sally Richards. School of Health and Social Care, University of Reading.

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