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Applications to social work programmes in England: students as consumers?

Manthorpe, Jill and Moriarty, Jo and Hussein, Shereen and Stevens, Martin and Sharpe, Endellion and Orme, Joan and MacIntyre, Gillian and Green Lister, Pam and Crisp, Beth R. (2010) Applications to social work programmes in England: students as consumers? Social Work Education, 29 (6). pp. 584-598.

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Abstract

One of the most resounding impacts of the introduction of the new social work degree in England in 2003 has been an increase in the number of applications to social work courses. However, the processes used by applicants to reach decisions about where to study social work are little understood. This article reports data from six preparatory focus groups and four interviews (n = 38), 17 focus group interviews with first year students (n = 112) from nine social work programmes run in six universities, and 2,606 responses to three online surveys administered to first year students, which were collected as part of the national Evaluation of the New Social Work Degree in England funded by the Department of Health. They show that students use a range of sources to find out about social work education, with rising reliance on electronic media as an information resource. Although the majority cites convenience of location as the chief reason for selecting a particular university, academic reputation appears to be growing in importance. Observations from these data are discussed in the context of consumer behaviour in higher education and in social work education at a time when universities are developing marketing strategies to compete for students.