Forensic body to dissect provision

February 10, 2006

They have been branded a "savage waste of young people's time and parents'

money" and a ploy to get bums on seats in universities by exploiting popular television dramas.

But forensic science degrees, which have been accused of being the latest "Mickey Mouse" courses, have found a new champion to fight their corner.

A self-selecting group of eight universities has joined forces with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Home Office, the Forensic Science Service and a number of police forces to set up a self-regulating network.

The UK Forensic Science Education Group, launched this month and led by Teesside University's Centre for Forensic Investigation, will "counter the criticism, but also bolster the reputation of the more vocationally oriented and more scientific courses", according to Julie Mennell, the director of the centre.

The group, which also comprises Strathclyde, Central Lancashire, Dundee, Lincoln, Staffordshire, Anglia Ruskin and Glamorgan universities, will seek to work with employers to establish "recognisable and relevant degrees", provide a pool of "job-ready" graduates and give undergraduates "realistic career expectations".

The move is a response to a damning report last year on courses in the field by MPs on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, titled Forensic Science on Trial .

The MPs found 401 university courses with the word "forensic" in the title (including, but not limited to, science courses). The figure was up to 479 as The Times Higher went to press.

They found that many courses offered little practical benefit to those wanting to become the next Sam Ryan, the fictional forensic pathologist in the TV drama Silent Witness .

The MPs were warned that some 3,000 forensic science undergraduates were set to compete for jobs in an industry with a total workforce of only about 5,000.

Clive Wolfendale, deputy chief constable of North Wales Police, said that the degrees were "a savage waste of young people's time and parents'

money".

Dr Mennell acknowledged that the report would have prompted some universities to review their current programme in forensic science.

But she added that there were some universities that had clearly identified their role in forensic science and started to demonstrate to the forensic science community the valuable contribution they could make.

Dr Mennell said: "This includes the provision of high-quality forensic science courses, where students are required to have a science background and where there is an anticipation, from both students and the university that, on graduation, students will be equipped to enter a role within forensic science or more generally within the science arena."

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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