Figures published by the General Social Care Council (GSCC), which inspects the quality of social work education, also reveal a decline in the number of local authority placements for social work students.
In 2008-09, 44 per cent of practice placements were provided by local authorities, compared with 48 per cent in 2006-07.
A GSCC report on social work education says that, following its monitoring of social work degree courses in 2009-10, most of the changes it advised related to improvements to the quality of work placements offered to students as part of their degrees.
Penny Thompson, chief executive of the GSCC, said: “The GSCC has believed for some time that the most sustainable way for higher education institutions to provide high-quality placements is by forging robust partnerships with local employers.”
But she added that employers needed to work just as hard to ensure that partnerships were developed.
The number of students enrolling on social work degrees increased to 6,113 in 2009-10, up 5 per cent on the previous year and the second-highest intake since the degrees were introduced.
Only 54 per cent of social work graduates in 2008-09 immediately entered social work employment. Twenty-three per cent declared themselves unemployed.
From 2011, universities must adhere to new GSCC practice placement standards, which set out clearer criteria for the type of placements students must experience.
In 2009, a cross-party committee of MPs said it was widely acknowledged that employers and universities were “not working together satisfactorily on a consistent basis”.
The report from the Children, Schools and Families Committee said that universities were unhappy with criticism of degree courses, but felt powerless to improve the choice of practice placements offered to students.
This week, the GSCC said that in West London, a number of universities had formed partnerships with local authorities that had delivered “tangible improvements”.
“We found that shared ownership of social work education results in employers taking more responsibility for workforce planning and for shaping the supply of social work students and qualified social workers,” said Lorna Fitzpatrick, partnership officer at the West London Pilot for the Recruitment and Retention of Social Workers.