Course to help funeral directors polish graveside manner

February 16, 2007

Bath University could soon be offering a foundation degree for funeral directors, writes Rebecca Attwood.

The university, which is home to the UK's only centre devoted to the study and research of social aspects of death, dying and bereavement, has signed a Pounds 150,000 deal with the National Association of Funeral Directors, creating a collaboration that could lead to the sector's first standardised professional qualification.

Glennys Howarth, the director, said there had been a cultural revolution in the way we view death, which had sparked greater academic interest in the subject.

"It is almost impossible to open a newspaper without seeing a story that relates to death and loss in some way," she said. "People have referred to death as a taboo subject, but I think it's more that they have little knowledge of it, so it becomes mysterious."

But she added that there was growing interest in the subject because of coverage in the media, both in the news and with TV programmes such as Desperate Housewives and Six Feet Under .

"This collaboration will be mutually beneficial. Partnerships between academia and business will enrich our research and understanding of the field while providing opportunities for educational and policy developments for our partners in the NAFD," Dr Howarth said.

Alan Slater, chief executive officer of the NAFD, said: "We are delighted to be working closely with the Centre for Death and Society to foster greater understanding of the funeral director's role and to support initiatives that will promote professional development within the sector."

The centre already offers a multidisciplinary masters in death and society, which was launched by the Centre for Death and Society in October. It recently expanded with the arrival of two professors, Allan Kellehear from La Trobe University, Melbourne, and Tony Walter from Reading University.

They join Dr Howarth, Una MacConville and Malcolm Johnson to form what is claimed to be Europe's leading research group on the subject.

Dr Howarth said: "Allan and Tony are leaders in their field, and will help the centre make a key contribution to the policies that impact on issues of mortality."

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