The future of lecturers on some university social work and probation studies courses looks bleak following this week's Home Office decision to press ahead with an on-the-job training route for probation officers, in the face of opposition from academics and prison experts.
The announcement, by Home Office minister Lady Blatch, lays down plans to introduce regionally-based, tailor-made, in-service training with limited higher education involvement through specific modules. It follows a Government review of probation training which resulted in just 11 out of 493 respondents endorsing change.
Bill Forsyth, head of Exeter University's social work and probation studies department, said: "It is a catastrophic decision: a black day for the British probation service and a serious setback for university departments." The CVCP expressed "grave disappointment", warning that the new system "could lead to fragmentation and a reduction in equality".
The diploma for social work, a two-year qualification which has been the traditional entry requirement to the probation service since the early 1970s, could be scrapped at many of the 34 universities in England and Wales which currently offer it.
The London School of Economics, which launched social work training in higher education, has already opted to stop the diploma in anticipation of this week's announcement. Julian LeGrand, convener of the department of social policy and administration, said the decision was taken because "the future funding of the diploma is so uncertain".
There is concern that the changes could also damage the approach of probation officers.
Dr Williams suggested the Home Office seems to want "more mechanistic training and more 'yes men' in the probation service". Dr Forsyth endorsed this view, warning that if the new training scheme calls for universities to offer modules which do not allow "for the understanding and challenging of received wisdoms about crime and policy", then his department "will not touch it with a barge pole".