Braverman axing compulsory degrees for police starts ‘backwards step’

Academics warn of damage to progress on equipping officers for modern-day policing and creating a ‘bona fide profession’

May 26, 2023
Newly qualified Metropolitan police officers take part in their Passing out Parade to illustrate End of obligatory degrees for police ‘backward step’
Source: Getty

The scrapping of compulsory degrees for careers in policing in the UK has been described as a “backwards step” for the profession and a blow to universities that have moved into work-based training, as policing becomes the latest battleground over degree requirements and “credentialism”.

Police forces across the country have begun to set up non-graduate entry routes for new recruits after the home secretary, Suella Braverman, removed late last year the blanket requirement that all new officers either have a degree already or study for one as part of an apprenticeship. Her decision was billed as a move to boost recruitment.

Westminster politicians and newspaper columnists have often lamented the shift to degrees being required in fields such as nursing, where academics have countered with evidence that nurses having degrees is associated with improved outcomes for patients.

In Hampshire, Donna Jones, the Police and Crime Commissioner, told Times Higher Education that the force’s recently announced “Policing Plus” scheme will see officers given 15 weeks of “much more practical” initial training compared with the degree route, which “required new recruits to spend 30 per cent of [their] time in a classroom and was much more essay based”.

Those recruits already studying degrees are to be given the option of pausing their programmes at the end of the academic year.

The degree requirement – part of the Policing Education Qualifications Framework – was only mandated in 2021, but universities have been involved in training police officers since police regional training colleges were closed in 2005.

“We’ve fought for years to make policing a bona fide profession,” said Mark Roycroft, the director of the Institute for Policing Studies at the University of West London and a former officer.

He said recruits had been put off in the past because policing was not seen as a career on an equal footing with professions such as nursing and teaching, where degrees are required.

Ms Jones said she was “not anti the police degree” and there were no plans to phase it out completely. But she added: “There are people who don’t have the aptitude [for academic study] but have got the most brilliant people skills and are natural problem-solvers.”

She said she felt the new route would in particular attract people looking to change careers, but who did not want to return to education.

“I am in favour of choice,” Ms Jones said. “We really do need a mix of skill sets and people in policing. It should be reflective of communities and society. In society you have got all types: people who go to university, people who don’t. That’s what policing needs to be.”

Julian Parker-McLeod, the director of professional education programmes at the University of Portsmouth’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said he thought the changes were “a real backwards step for policing, given the struggles they’ve had to get to this point and the scrutiny around the job at the moment”.

He said there had been a “landslide” away from compulsory degrees in some forces in favour of in-house training, while some were adopting a hybrid approach.

Little detail has emerged about what the non-graduate entry route could look like nationwide, but Dr Parker-McLeod said he feared it would “fall back to pretty basic police training”.

“Within a degree there is a much broader curriculum and knowledge base,” he said. “They are taught all the law, legislation and policy and procedures. But there is also a lot about reflection, and these learners are exposed to a much wider knowledge and subject base.

“Technology and society have moved on. It is widely recognised that the complexities of modern-day policing require people to be able to think, process information and draw on a wider evidence base to make informed critical decisions in real time, and I don’t think basic training necessarily gives people these skill sets.”

Portsmouth is in a consortium with other universities to train officers for the Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire police forces, with its contract coming to an end this year. What any such arrangement might look like in future was still unclear.

“Financially it will have an impact on us but to me the issue here is around creating and developing the best-equipped professional police officers we can have in England and Wales,” said Dr Parker-McLeod. “Watering down the level of education they are given reduces the possibility of doing that.”

Dr Roycroft said the changes could also have the unintended consequence of creating two-tier police forces, with workforces split between those with degrees and those without, raising questions about how this would affect remuneration and promotions.

But Ms Jones said she felt that whether an officer had a degree or not became “largely irrelevant” once they entered the force, with evidence of good work and skills in policing becoming much more important than qualifications.

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Reader's comments (1)

As the former Portsmouth City Police cadet (from when the city had it's own force) who rose through hard work and appropriate training through the ranks to retire as a Hampshire Chief Super put it "graduates have no experience and heads full of ideas, most of which are useless in the reality of Policing the public". Peel's most often quoted principle that "The police are the public and the public are the police." doesn't work when you insist they are all graduates.