New Challenges for Social Work Education in Cyprus
Social Work Education in Cyprus can be considered as a “new” discipline, with a brief history of almost twenty years. The proposed article aims to develop the evolution of Social Work curriculum during this period of twenty years.
Program of Social Work profile
Social work is a new field of study in private tertiary education in Cyprus. The first Social Work Department was created in September 2001, by the Frederick Institute of Technology.
The Department has been involved in numerous studies since its establishment in 2001. Most of them were funded by EU Solidarity Funds (e.g. EU-European Refuge Fund and EU-Integration Fund) and national organisations (e.g. Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance). In addition, staff has participated in various European consortiums and networks promoting awareness on intimate partner violence. Moreover, staff has been involved in number of different studies regarding intimate partner violence, child trafficking, disabilities and issues regarding refuges and third country immigrants. The skills and expertise of key staff involved in the project are presented hereby. In September 2007, Frederick University was established after a decision of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cyprus. The Social Work Department was now able to offer an accredited undegraduate degree recognised and accepted by all EU countries. The program of study consists of 240 ECTS of theoretical modules, including 1200 hours of supervised field work in a wide range of lisenced social welfare agencies mainly in the public and voluntary sectors. Needless to say that the curriculum is in line to the Bologna plan on university study programs (De La Fuente Robles and Cano 2019).
Profile of student
The graduates of the Program have the knowledge and skills required for the practice of social work at a generalist level and can provide services to individuals, families, groups, communities and organizations. Upon graduation, social work graduates can register as licensed social workers. They can be employed in the public, private and voluntary sectors and work in all social work fields.
The aim of the program is to provide quality social work education for students and to prepare them for professional social work practice in order to empower and enhance the well being of vulnerable populations and communities at risk. The program is academic and all students are expected to complete 1200 hours of supervised field work in a wide range of social welfare agencies. It prepares its graduates for direct employment as licensed social workers and lays the foundation for graduate studies in the field of social work and social policy.
The first social work program did not have significant differences from the program which was passed on to a University level in 2007. As indicated in Figure 1, the program consisted of 54 modules, field work in 3 consecutive semesters and a dissertation. In the second program review in 2012, the main change which took place concerned a decrease in the number of modules taught in each semester and consequently an increase in the ECTS in each module (see figure 1).
In 2017, the last official program review was realised and approved by the Ministry of Education. This time the review of the undergraduate program focused more on the change of a few module titles and content but also to the status of the dissertation which became optional.
In 2012, along with the second undergraduate program review, a Master’s degree program in Social Work and Social Administration was approved by the Ministry of Education with two specialisations: (a) Clinical Social Work with Families, Individuals and Adolescents, and (b) Community Development and Social Administration. In 2017, the graduate degree was reviewed along with the undergraduate degree. The main changes concerned: (a) the length of the program, from four semesters to three – reduction of modules (90 ECTS), (b) the annulment of the field work for the Community Development and Social Administration specialisation, and (c) thesis became optional – students could choose modules instead. Finally, in 2018 a PhD degree in Social Work was offered by the University.
The benefits of field work are well documented for both graduate (Petrila 2015) and undergraduate students (D’Abate 2009; Matthews and Lawley 2011). For example, students’ field work placements have been shown to have a positive effect on overall student satisfaction with their international education experiences (Matthews and Lawley 2011). Additionally, they function to provide students with access to career opportunities and increased access to career decision options. Relating to career opportunities, student internships enhance students’ resume by honing networking and technical skills as well as giving students the opportunity to interact with professionals in their fields (Beebe et al. 2009).
Students’ field work placement is the most compact part of the entire educational process of the social work program curriculum (Vassos et al. 2019). It is conducted in three consecutive semesters at various organisations/services, under the supervision of professional social workers who are members of the academic staff of the Department of Psychology and Social Sciences and in collaboration with administratively responsible professionals at the organisations where the students are placed for their field work. In addition, the field work placement is a core course for which students are assessed for their performance and graded accordingly after completing a total of 1200 hours of field work. The organisations for students’ field work placement should be approved as appropriate by the Social Work Program, as they play a significant part in students’ educational journey (Bailey-McHale et al. 2019).
The field work placement provides students the opportunity to combine theory with practice and to prepare themselves as future professional social workers. It also aims to cover students' educational needs to complement and deepen their knowledge in social work profession. Moreover, it provides students the opportunity of networking and connecting to the job market for their future employment. Academic supervisors substantially contribute to this goal by voluntarily contributing to and assisting organisations in conducting research, conferences or other events.
During the years 2001-2019, field work placement has developed and evolved. Academic supervisors are flexible and adapt individual supervision; they are trying to support students to solve their personal problems through seminars and experiential exercises in order to be more productive, and to enhance their skills by acquiring more knowledge and experiences. Field work placement also focuses on the societal benefits and on tackling modern social problems. Students are placed in organisations that provide specialised services and handle social problems that have not been so prevalent in previous years. For example, organisations for students’ placement are: day care centers and institutions for elderly and people with disabilities, counseling centers, the Red Cross, Center for People with Dementia, the Army, municipality’s social services and the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority. The Department is currently cooperating with more than 150 organisations all over Cyprus.
The social work program has been involved in many studies since its establishment. Most of these studies were funded both by national and European funds. Back to 2001, the vast majority of the funding programmes were EU funds (e.g. EU-European Refuge Fund and EU- Integration Fund), which were managed by the Ministry of Interior. By that time, most of the research projects implemented by the Department were related to asylum seekers, immigrants and humanitarian aid to vulnerable people living in the Republic of Cyprus. The Department’s staff had great working experience on the specific target group, which enabled the Department to secure funding for a number of research projects. In the following, new academics were employed due to the Department’s expansion, which led to the enrichment of the departmental scientific and research domain. From that point, staff was involved in a variety of different research projects regarding intimate partner violence, human trafficking, disabilities and issues regarding refuges and third country immigrants; moreover, staff participated in various European consortiums and networks promoting awareness on intimate partner violence. In 2012, a multi-disciplinary team conducted the first national research that aimed to investigate the extent, frequency, types and consequences of domestic violence against women in Cyprus, in which more than 50 students were voluntarily involved.
The establishment of the Master’s degree at the Department of Social Work (2012) and the involvement of new academic staff led to the creation of new research pathways. The departmental research culture was further strengthened and broadened due to the new conditions: a) the recruitment of new colleagues who joined the Department, and b) the involvement of postgraduate students in research projects. From that point onwards, the Department increased the number of projects in which its staff was involved; funding is now derived from European research projects, such as Erasmus, Erasmus+, LIFE and Justice. These conditions allowed staff to be open and explore an even wider research area/domain, led to the formation of new collaborations and new opportunities for additional research projects. As a result, during the period 2017-2019 staff members participated in many Erasmus+ projects and it was awarded with its first research project as leading organisation (€100.000 from the Research Promotion Foundation). In addition, staff members are currently involved in four LIFE projects (some of them are above 1 million Euros budget), being responsible for conducting socio- economic reports. This achievement enabled the employment of a new research assistant by the Department and also allowed post-graduate students to gain new research experiences from the projects in which they had the chance to be involved.
It has to be underlined that the Department has gradually improved its research capacity through the years, raising the question of how research fits in the curriculum, an issue which is heavily discussed in the international literature (Lyons 2019). A wider scientific domain has been achieved and many research funds have been secured, in addition, the Department is currently competing for European tenders. Moreover, gradually more opportunities for students’ involvement in research projects have been created. At last, the Department is currently facing new challenges and opportunities for further improvement through the appointment of its first PhD students.
Overall, some of the present challenges for social work education are not new, and have been gaining momentum for some time (Craik 2019); also, Although the profession is developing globally, it is also experiencing significant challenges (Ornellas et al. 2019). The aim of the Social Work Department, at Frederick University, is to constantly improve its programs and provide students with the best possible quality of social work education, in all three levels, and to prepare them for professional social work practice and research in order to empower and enhance the well being of vulnerable populations and communities at risk
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