Science boost for alternative medicine BScs

February 5, 2009

The University of Westminster's controversial BSc courses in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are to be overhauled to give them a stronger science content following the results of an internal audit.

The audit was commissioned last year by Geoffrey Petts, the vice-chancellor, to explore the balance between "critical scholarly activity" on the courses and their "vocational aspects" designed to produce practitioners.

In a letter to staff on 12 January, Professor Petts says he will act on recommendations from the audit, which was overseen by Alan Jago, a former Westminster pro vice-chancellor.

"The overarching aim of these actions ... is to strengthen and make more explicit the 'scientific' nature of the integrated health undergraduate degrees," he writes.

"Given the controversial nature of some of the provision in the scheme, it is essential that we are delivering on our promise of a science-based training."

He outlines a series of new initiatives to be taken by Westminster:

- strengthening scientific "learning outcomes";

- strengthening the scientific and academic qualifications of staff and the scholarly activities of practitioner staff;

- reviewing the courses and therapies to see what would be more appropriate to deliver as foundation degrees;

- clarifying in course regulations that science modules have to be passed;

- strengthening students' final-year projects to make them more scientific;

- developing high-quality MSc programmes in selected areas.

David Colquhoun, a professor of pharmacology at University College London and campaigner against degrees in complementary and alternative medicine, said the review was welcome, given an unsatisfactory status quo.

However, he said, the actions proposed by Professor Petts were "rather timid", "illogical" and "bound to fail to solve the problem".

"He now has Salford's example to think about," Professor Colquhoun said. His comment was made in reference to a decision by the University of Salford, reported in Times Higher Education in January, to stop offering undergraduate degrees in acupuncture and complementary medicine because they are no longer considered "a sound academic fit".

Westminster is the biggest provider of CAM courses in the UK, offering 11 BSc degrees. A spokesman for the university said that, once implemented, the changes would ensure that Westminster could continue to deliver courses that met both student demand and the needs of employers in this area.

The University of Central Lancashire is also currently reviewing its CAM courses.

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