Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 63

Submission from the British Psychological Society

  The British Psychological Society (the Society) welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Committee's inquiry into Funding for Equivalent or Lower Qualifications (ELQs).

  The Society is the learned and professional body, incorporated by Royal Charter, for psychologists in the United Kingdom, has a total membership of over 45,000 and is a registered charity. The key Charter object of the Society is "to promote the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of psychology pure and applied and especially to promote the efficiency and usefulness of members by setting up a high standard of professional education and knowledge".

  The Society is authorised under its Royal Charter to maintain the Register of Chartered Psychologists. It has a code of conduct and investigatory and disciplinary systems in place to consider complaints of professional misconduct relating to its members. The Society is an examining body granting certificates and diplomas in specialist areas of professional applied psychology. It also has in place quality assurance programmes for accrediting both undergraduate and postgraduate university degree courses.


  The Society is strongly opposed to the general principle underlying the proposal to withdraw funding from ELQs. The opportunity to undertake retraining is an essential component of the concept of lifelong learning. Removing it would make the labour market inflexible and much less able to respond to the changing demands of the economy. This weakness in the proposals is partially recognised by the acceptance that there will have to be exemptions to the general removal of funding for ELQs.


  If the proposals are persisted with, then the Society is greatly concerned by the failure to consider exemptions for routes into careers in practising professional psychology. There are currently seven main areas of practising psychology: clinical psychology, counselling psychology, educational psychology, forensic psychology, health psychology, occupational psychology, or sport and exercise psychology. The largest of these routes is for clinical psychology, and other NHS-related psychology/mental health training. For the sake of brevity, we have concentrated on this particular route; however, similar cases could be made for the training routes into the other important areas of applied psychology. It is worth noting that all the above mentioned areas benefit substantially from the input of people who have had experience in other careers before coming into psychology, just the group who would be hardest hit by the removal of ELQ funding. The Society is therefore also particularly concerned about the lack of clarity in the proposals around the status of conversion awards, an important route for mature students into professional psychology, in relation to exemption. Finally, we raise briefly the need for a fully funded route for retraining those teaching psychology in schools with degrees in other areas.

1.   Clinical Psychology and Other NHS-related Psychology Training

  A strong case for additional exemption exists in relation to clinical and mental health training pathways; this would allow continuation of recruitment to such awards for students who have previously undertaken equivalent level qualifications, prior to embarking on psychology-related mental health training.

  Many health professionals with existing degrees (eg in nursing) go on to study psychology at degree level in order to access postgraduate training in applied psychology. Frequently, entrants to Clinical Psychology doctoral programmes, some of which attract elements of HEFCE funding, already possess research doctorates; in addition, trained clinical psychologists must receive further training at equivalent level in order to qualify in Clinical Neuropsychology.

  Given Department of Health developments around New Ways of Working and Continuous Professional Development, and its support for lateral transfer and re-skilling of the NHS working force in relation to mental health issues, there needs to be clarity that new courses designed to meet these needs (eg Graduate/Primary Mental Health Worker Certificates/Psychology Assistant and Associate Certificates and Diplomas/Certificates in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) are exempt from ELQ withdrawal of funding, in order to encourage HEIs to take this forward. For example, the Minister of State for Health, the Rt Hon Alan Johnson announced in the Commons in October additional investment (£178 million) for Improving Access to Psychological Therapies which see the training of an additional 3,600 new psychological therapists. If the current proposals are implemented we believe they would seriously jeopardise the implementation of new, innovative and highly desirable initiative from the Department of Health.

  We have interpreted the exemptions noted in Annex B, 2a of the proposals as not applying to the types of student referred to in the last paragraph, but suggest that consideration of recent NHS workforce training priorities must better inform policy exemptions in this area, for example by extending the exemption to students who are already healthcare professionals, as well as those studying on courses providing the primary training for healthcare professionals. Similarly we understand that these student categories do not fit current interpretations of an SIVS, despite the significant emphasis given to the teaching of quantitative research methods in psychology. With this in mind, we urge the reconsideration of SIVS priorities hinted at in Point 33 of the proposals.

2.   Conversion awards

  Communication with HE departments of psychology suggests there is considerable confusion about the status of conversion awards in psychology in relation to these proposals. We understand that Graduate Diplomas in Psychology are categorised as PGT by HESA, on the basis that students normally require a first degree on admission, regardless of the fact that many such awards are offered at the same level ie the defining as PGT is not determined by the level of the modules studied. This needs to be made explicit within the ELQ policy guidelines to institutions, but does not entirely resolve difficulties created by the proposals in this area, as presumably Masters degrees might then be classed as ELQs for those who had taken a conversion award? A general and related point to emerge here is the observation that the current system for recording entry qualifications for those with postgraduate qualifications (eg in HESA returns) is very crude by comparison with other levels of qualification, leading to an inability to reflect the growing differentiation of levels of PG award in the sector.

  On this basis, we offer the argument below to support the case for treating conversion awards as an additional exemption:

  Successful achievement of a conversion award, most typically a Graduate Diploma in Psychology, but also the Society's own Qualifying Examination, is a route to obtaining the Graduate Basis for Registration (GBR) which is followed by significant numbers of students each year—students who have a first degree in a different discipline, but who require GBR in order to pursue a career in professional psychology via postgraduate training. The award's popularity is attested to by the fact that 41 such programmes are currently accredited by the Society, with at least a further seven planned for 2007-08. The award's "efficiency" is reflected in its "fast-track" nature (typically one year's full-time study for those with the equivalent of half a year's study of psychology at degree level). Its vocational relevance is its primary raison d'etre. It attracts highly competent and motivated students, who already make large personal sacrifices in terms of time and finance because they anticipate a more fulfilling career following graduation. Typically conversion award graduates achieve high retention rates and grades, continue into professional training, and make significant contributions to society and the UK economy.

  A reduction in this category of student would be a great loss to the practice and profession of psychology, particularly at a time when other Government initiatives are supporting the expansion of trained mental health therapists (see above). Referring specifically to Point 22 of the proposals, we would argue that exempting students on conversion awards would be in line with the general approach proposed to exemptions, in that it is consistent with "the Government's intention to prioritise students progressing to a higher qualification"—such students would be debarred from progressing to a higher qualification if they could not complete a conversion award. There is also little doubt that fees for such awards would have to increase significantly, if they were to remain viable without HEFCE funding, leading to other discriminatory influences with respect to those who would be able to afford to attend.

3.   Retraining those teaching psychology in schools with degrees in other areas

  Psychology is now the third most popular A level subject in Britain, and the most popular science A level. It is a particularly important route into science for girls who, unusually for science, make up a substantial majority of the students. This rapid expansion has meant that it is commonly taught by staff with degrees in other areas, often in non-science disciplines. There is therefore an important need for facilitating the retraining of staff particularly through part-time degrees. The removal of ELQ would hit this group particularly hard.


  The Society agrees with the view accepted in the proposals that there is likely to be a differentially-marked impact (we believe this will be a discriminatory impact) on the withdrawal of funding for ELQ's for part-time students. We agree this needs to be addressed, but we are less certain that the supplement proposed will be adequate compensation.

  We are concerned that a policy which creates a negative differential impact on part-time students in psychology also creates a negative differential impact on women and mature students since psychology is a very strong recruiter of these two groups. Psychology is also particularly vulnerable in terms of absolute numbers of students penalised, because of its large student body. It is a subject that many turn to later in life after pursuing other careers; again this trend increases the likelihood that the policy will impact differentially on psychology students. The long term impact of individuals remaining in employment which does not satisfy them is likely to be a workforce with lower motivation, effectiveness and efficiency.

  It is ironic that the principle target of this initiative is the part-time sector, on which the Government is relying for return to work schemes, widening participation and employer engagement.


  In this submission the Society has expressed its serious concerns regarding the proposed withdrawal of funding outlined by Government, presenting clear case scenarios of how such a measure could impact on the professional future of those individuals pursuing a career in psychology. The Society firmly believes that psychology and the other science subjects should be exempted from such proposals, enabling those individuals wishing to change direction and to become psychologists, especially through conversion courses and postgraduate courses, to do so. This approach would support current widespread flexible work force notions, and truly reflect the nature of our modern world.

January 2008

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