British School of Osteopathy wins university college status

Professor warns full university status for complementary medicine institution would ‘downgrade credibility’ of UK sector

August 30, 2017
Tennis osteopath
Source: Getty
Sore point: to make the British School of Osteopathy a university ‘would significantly downgrade the credibility of UK universities and make a mockery of academia and evidence-based healthcare’

The British School of Osteopathy has won university college title, meaning that a complementary medicine institution could be on the road towards full university status.

University college title, awarded by the Privy Council on the advice of the Department for Education and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, is usually seen as a step towards full university status. One professor warned that if the BSO were to achieve this, it would “make a mockery of academia and evidence-based healthcare”.

The DfE, and before that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, has pursued a more liberal approach to the introduction of new providers to the English sector under the Conservative and coalition governments.

The BSO, a London-based non-profit, charitable institution, secured degree-awarding powers and access to Hefce public teaching and research funding in December 2015. The institution will be known, from September, as the University College of Osteopathy.

Bournemouth's Anglo-European College of Chiropractic was granted degree-awarding powers in July 2016.

Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, said that these were worrying decisions.

“Osteopathy is based on implausible assumptions, and there is no good evidence for its effectiveness. Yet osteopaths regularly make all sorts of therapeutic claims,” he said. “These facts make the BSO not a candidate for becoming a university; on the contrary, such a move would significantly downgrade the credibility of UK universities and make a mockery of academia and evidence-based healthcare.”

The NHS Choices website states that there is “good evidence that osteopathy is effective in treating persistent lower back pain” and says that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends it as a treatment for this condition. But there is “currently no good evidence that osteopathy is effective as a treatment for health conditions unrelated to the musculoskeletal system (bones and muscles)”, NHS Choices adds.

Charles Hunt, the BSO principal, said that the institution at present had no plans to grow its student numbers to the threshold required for full university title, currently 1,000 full-time equivalent higher education students. But he added that the institution recognised that “changes in the [Higher Education and Research Act] about becoming a university might take those numbers out” of the university title process, which will come under the control of the new Office for Students in England.

Mr Hunt said that the award of university college title “recognises the quality of our organisation” in its 100th year and was “an important step for the profession”. The BSO has “had to go through all the hoops that any other institution has had to go through to demonstrate quality and reflectiveness in our institution [and] good governance”, which was rightly an “arduous” process “to protect brand UK HE”, he continued.

Responding to Professor Ernst’s criticisms, Mr Hunt said: “I would say we have a duty to be careful what we tell our patients, to not make claims that are unfounded. And we are encouraging our students to be critically reflective [on] osteopathy and to start building that evidence base to support their claims.

“We recognise that for some of the things that some osteopaths are doing, there is very limited evidence [to demonstrate their effectiveness], and we need to gain more for that. But within medicine, there’s a lot of things that also do not have evidence for them, but some medical practitioners are doing [them anyway].

“Professor Ernst raises a really important question that should challenge us to be better and provide more evidence for what we do.”

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

The Department of Education evidently needs a bit of education. It is grotesque that a College of Chiropractic should be given university status. Chiropractic was the invention of a 19th century fairground salesman and is not recommended for anything whatsoever. Anyone who allows a chiropractor to manipulate their neck is risking their life.

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