Government tightens control of the professions

June 14, 1996

Training for the professions is to come increasingly under the control of central government, according to a report out this week. The report investigates the "destruction" of partnerships between university academics and professionals working in the field.

Brian Williams, a lecturer in social work at Keele University, has detailed the way the Government has flouted academic research, ignored the principle of academic freedom and forced through major changes to teacher education and the training of probation officers, social workers and other professions. It may only be a matter of time before the same happens to law, architecture and medicine according to the report.

The report airs anxieties over the way the Government is encouraging the growth of so-called neo-professions and using them to "undermine or even replace" existing professionals. Typical neo-professions include the short-lived "mums' army" of auxiliary teachers and professions allied to medicine.

"Professional practice is most likely to be theoretically sound if professional people are trained to use, evaluate and undertake research," says the report, published by the Association of University Teachers. "The removal of some teacher education and the proposal to remove practically all probation officer education from universities makes it highly unlikely that the excellent tradition of research in these disciplines will continue."

There will be fewer academics remaining in university departments to carry out the research, according to Dr Williams, "hastening the demise" of independent research into professional practice.

He believes the growth of the neo-professions is marginalising the established professions. National Vocational Qualifications are intended to replace existing qualifications, awarding bodies and chartered professional institutes in such disciplines as architecture, engineering, medicine and law. "The consequence would be that training for the established professions would increasingly come under government control," the report warns.

Dr Williams says vigorous, independent professions seem to represent some kind of threat in the eyes of the Government and his report details specific examples of the rhetoric of politicians and right-wing think tanks as evidence of anti-intellectualism and political attacks on academic autonomy.

He calls for a forum in which educators can share concerns over threats to autonomy, to independently validated courses and to their jobs. "A model of professionalism and professional education which protects the partnership between the professions and the universities urgently needs to be devised," the report says.

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