Staff fears about 'quackery' lead to review of alternative health courses

Uclan working group to re-evaluate degrees in homoeopathy and herbalism. Zoe Corbyn reports

September 4, 2008

The University of Central Lancashire is to review all its courses in homoeopathy, herbalism and acupuncture after some staff said it should not be offering degrees in "quackery", Times Higher Education has learnt.

A university spokesman said: "As a university we value and practise transparency and tolerance and welcome all academic viewpoints.

"With this in mind, and because we have received concerns from some colleagues as to whether the university should offer courses in homoeopathy, herbalism and acupuncture, the university has set up a working group to review all the issues."

Eileen Martin, pro vice-chancellor and dean of the faculty of health, which runs the courses out of the department of nursing, is to lead the review.

Uclan declined to comment on the review panel's membership, its terms of reference or whether its findings would be made public, saying details were still being finalised.

The move follows the university's decision last week to suspend its first-year BSc course in homoeopathic medicine because it had not attracted the student numbers needed to make it viable. Those studying on the second and third years of the course will continue as normal.

The course leaders, Kate Chatfield and Jean Duckworth, say in a statement that the decision to cancel the first year of the course was "nothing to do with" the "relentless attacks" by the "anti-homoeopathy league". They admit, however, that their opponents' attacks have "taken their toll and it appears that they have won this small victory".

David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London and an outspoken critic of "pseudoscience degrees", said that he feared that the review would result in an "internal whitewash".

He criticised the choice of Ms Martin to lead the review, suggesting that she had a lack of research publications and a vested interest.

"The choice of chair seems, on the face of it, quite inappropriate ... (The courses) presumably generate income for her faculty, so she can hardly be regarded as being free of vested interest," he said.

He added: "If there is a majority of proper scientific people, with expertise in statistics, clinical trial design and assessment of evidence, then it could be OK."

It is understood that the review will look at four BSc and MSc courses as well as three new courses starting this year in a partnership with the Northern College of Acupuncture.

Criticism from university staff about the new courses - a BSc (hons) and MSc in acupuncture and an MSc in Chinese herbal medicine - prompted the review.

Mike Eslea, a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology, organised an "open letter" to the vice-chancellor saying the courses contained a "roll-call of quackery" and would damage Uclan's hopes of being taken seriously as a research institution.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com

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