Scottish social work experts are disappointed that new measures to boost social work education have fallen short of English moves to give students bursaries, writes Olga Wojtas.
But they welcomed reforms that could see Scottish graduates having up to £9,000 of their student loan reimbursed, and graduates in other areas able to take fast-track postgraduate diplomas in social work.
Joan Orme, professor of social work at Glasgow University, said: "Ideally, we would have liked to have seen the English situation, where there are bursaries, but overall, it is a good package."
From 2004, anyone wishing to enter social work in Scotland will have to gain an honours degree first. Cathy Jamieson, Scotland's minister for education and young people, said that a higher standard of qualification was essential if the country was to meet the new demands placed on the profession.
But introduction of a pilot fast-track system would allow graduates with relevant degrees to retrain as social workers in 15-18 months.
The next two years will see about £2 million in grants go to higher education institutions, local authorities and voluntary organisations to help meet the costs of student practice placements.
Graduates of the new honours degree, which will replace the social work diploma, could be eligible for a reimbursement of £9,000 if they sign up to work in areas most affected by shortages.
The National Union of Students Scotland president Rami Okasha said: "While we welcome this scheme as good for those involved, Scottish students will see this as an admission from politicians that student debt is a problem.
The fact that having your debts paid off is a recognised incentive can only be seen as a sad reflection of a system that forces students into high levels of debt in the first place."