A quiet revolution for law and order

September 8, 2006

In the second of our three-part series on employer-led higher education, Claire Sanders looks at the arrival of police students on campus

This summer, The Times Higher carried an unusual job advert. It was for a director of the new Universities Police Science Institute in Cardiff, the first of its kind in the UK, and another milestone in the emerging field of police studies.

The institute is being set up by Cardiff and Glamorgan universities in collaboration with South Wales Police, and will be the police equivalent of a medical school, offering everything from initial training to continuing professional development and applied research.

It is part of a growing trend to professionalise the training of police, which has seen a shift from police training centres to universities.

Not only is this likely to have an impact on the sort of people who police us, it could also have major consequences for the academic sector.

Adding impetus to the Government's drive to increase employer involvement in higher education, police training could help universities expand in the same way that nursing education has allowed in recent years.

Jonathan Shepherd, one of the driving forces behind the new institute in Cardiff and a professor of surgery at the university's medical school, said: "At partnership group meetings I am surrounded by social workers, colleagues from the education services and medics all with a degree-level education and a body of research-based evidence to back up their practice.

It is very evident that the police are the only body not to have this academic base."

The quiet revolution in police training that Cardiff epitomises was given a new urgency by Sir Ian Blair's Dimbleby lecture last year. In a wide-ranging speech, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said: "Lots of people in this country are actually undertaking a permanent NVQ on policing - it's called The Bill... but informed commentary on policing is piecemeal."

And, like Professor Shepherd, he pointed to the striking contrast with other professions. "For health, there is a King's Fund and endless university departments for research, a National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence," he said. "But not (for) policing."

Sir Ian also highlighted the problem of what is politely called "diversity" in the police force. "For a long time, the police service was... the preserve of the striving lower-middle class, predominantly white, predominantly male," he said.

Supporters of greater links between police training and universities argue that the move will bring a more diverse and tolerant sort of recruit into the police.

The move to professionalise the police was set out in a 2002 report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary titled Training Matters . It concluded that changes needed to be made to the training of police recruits to "meet the challenges of policing in the 21st century". In response to the report's findings, the Initial Police Learning Development Programme (IPLDP) was devised. This is a national requirement for all rookie police officers, and the trend is for forces to engage with universities to deliver training.

The big police training centres, which were often run on military lines, have been closed. More crucially, budgets have been transferred to individual police forces, giving them a greater say in the sort of training they want - and a far greater ability to tailor courses to local communities and their needs.

Barbara Wilding, South Wales Police Chief Constable, said: "The decision by the Home Office to give responsibility for probationer training to individual police forces provided us with an opportunity to design a system that was specific to our needs and tailored to ensure training focused on our communities and 21st-century policing challenges."

Tim Meaklim, head of quality and development at Centrex, the central police training and development authority - soon to become a key part of the National Police Improvement Agency - said that Centrex still had a central quality assessment role but that the new system meant a great deal of national variety. "Some forces are making limited changes while others are being quite radical," he said.

He added: "Many of the restrictions to the police force - such as the height restriction - disappeared a number of years ago. We are seeking to make forces more reflective of the communities they serve, which means a better gender and ethnic mix. I've always said that I would rather have a female officer next to me prepared to get stuck in than a 6ft shot-putter who hung back. There is a range of demands on the force today - and we need a range of people."

There are 43 police forces in England and Wales. Funding comes through the forces themselves, with their funding coming ultimately from the Home Office. However, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has also contributed to the funding of some courses in universities, and the position is not yet clear as to whether the resources will ultimately come from the Department for Education and Skills or the Home Office.

Rhobert Lewis, associate head of the School of Applied Sciences at Glamorgan University, which already offers a BSc in police science, said Glamorgan was extending its work with student officers. "We are planning to provide a certificate in higher education that will subsume the IPLDP. Next year, we also plan to start a foundation degree," he said.

By putting this work in the new institute students will be able to go straight through to PhD level if they so choose. The institute will also undertake research to back up police practice. "The institute will be able to provide evidence of the effectiveness of crime-fighting measures, such as the use of CCTV and knife amnesties," said Professor Shepherd. "Police science is emerging as a serious discipline, with links to well-established academic areas such as criminology, geography and sociology."

He predicted that the institute, run on medical school lines, could provide a national model.

claire.sanders@thes.co.uk

BRAINY BRIGHTON BOBBIES ON THE BEAT

When Brighton University started its foundation certificate in police studies this year it attracted a new and interesting type of probationer.

"Between a quarter and half of all students enrolling had a degree, and some were coming in with masters degrees," said Viv Martin, who runs the course for Brighton.

"We also took in a significant number of women, particularly mothers with young children, who would have found it difficult to undertake the training when it involved attending a 12-week residential course."

Overall Brighton will take in four cohorts a year, each consisting of about 60 students.

"This involves a considerable degree of flexibility on our part," said Dr Martin.

The police students undertake a wide range of placements during their studies.

"We are keen to develop a police force that represents its community. Our students are placed in school exclusion units, faith-based organisations, soup kitchens, gay community support groups or housing groups working on troubled estates," said Dr Martin.

"They work as part of teams with colleagues from other professions."

Deputy chief constable Geoff Williams said: "Community placements and experiencing life as a university student will help expand student officers' horizons and help to build mutual trust and confidence."

Vice-chancellor Julian Crampton stressed that the new course demonstrated the ability of universities to work with employers to raise the quality, level and relevance of the training they provide.

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