Correspondence so far between UEA and PCU Posted by Jane Clements


From PCU to VC April 29th 2017

Dear Vice Chancellor,

This communication from the Psychotherapists and Counsellors Union (PCU) is in response to the recent announcements concerning the future of the person-centred counselling courses at the University of East Anglia (UEA). 

We consider the move to close these courses to be unacceptable, given that the decision appears to have been taken with negligible consultation and without consideration of the need for highly skilled and well qualified counsellors and psychotherapists, both locally to Norwich, in the region and in the UK. The loss of volunteer counsellors working locally as part of their training is also significant and will place the NHS under even greater pressure. 

We are also concerned about the impact on existing students and staff and we note that there will be a deleterious impact on your University’s own counselling service.

According to information received, it seems that students will now not be able to progress in the way in which they had expected. If students who gain the certificate in counselling may not proceed to the diploma in the way they had been promised, then this is damaging to their careers and professional development. We also have concerns about the finishing  period of the existing diploma students.

We are not sure how this high-handedness can be justified either on human or on academic grounds. Is it not unethical?

We think that wider communication about this closure is important because the public is at stake and hence we hope there have been no attempts to stifle discussion - because these would be badly received.

We believe your decisions were based on poor information and a lack of understanding of the ways in which the overall field of the psychological therapies is developing. In-depth therapy work is generally agreed, on the basis of research, to be both effective in terms of alleviating mental and emotional distress, and also to be what clients and patients find beneficial and suited to their needs.

If UEA believes that its remaining trainings in psychological therapies predicated on the needs of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies scheme are in any way a replacement for what is now being lost, then this is a most unfortunate error. It will be perceived as such across the professions of counselling and psychotherapy.

Not only this, but the decision seems to have been made without consideration of the very high national and international standing that UEA holds in the field. For twenty five years UEA has been synonymous with person-centred therapy. The loss of a training programme of this quality and of its potential for University based research not only affects colleagues and students at UEA but all of us in the profession. 

The person-centred course at UEA was one very significant way that the University was nationally known outside of Norwich and these closures are a retrograde step.

We request that these decisions be reconsidered, an appropriate consultative process be established, and that you will agree to a meeting with this Union which is most definitely a stakeholder in the matter.

We look forward to the swift receipt of your response to this communication and we would appreciate acknowledgement of its receipt.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Bagnall-Oakeley (Chair, PCU)

Professor Andrew Samuels (Academic Adviser, PCU and Former Chair United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy

Note: This e-mail has been copied to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, Universities and Colleges Union, MPs and local authorities.

Message from Professor David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor, University of East Anglia May 4th 2017

Dear Professor Samuels,

Thank you for your email concerning the closure of the person-centred counselling courses at UEA.

The decision to withdraw the counselling courses at UEA has not been taken lightly and does not reflect a negative view of the value of counselling to the wider community. Rather, it reflects the School of Education and Lifelong Learning’s need for greater alignment of its courses and a more coherent portfolio of activity centred on the teaching of Education theory and practice.

Regarding the question of demand for the counselling courses, in each of the past three years we have had fewer than the full-time equivalent of 35 students studying across the five full and part time courses offered. There are alternative providers of counselling courses in the city and region, such as City College Norwich, the Norwich Centre, the University of Suffolk, the University of Cambridge and University Centre Colchester (linked to the University of Essex), where students can study counselling. 

UEA continues to support mental health provision through the clinical psychology courses (66 currently on the course), High Intensity CBT and Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner courses (with more than 80 people commencing training on each of these in the last 12 months).   In terms of UEA student counselling a new blended service model is being developed that will see an increase in cognitive behavioural therapy counselling capacity and less emphasis on person-centred counselling.

I hope this information is helpful. Thank you for taking the time to write in about your concerns.

Best wishes,

[PCU was surprised at the omission of the Head of School from the reply to us. Please ensure that he has sight of the Union’s initial letter to the VC. He is now included.]

Dear Vice Chancellor,

On behalf of the Psychotherapy and Counselling Union (PCU), I write to express disappointment and disquiet over your response to our initial e-mail.

By now, you will have become aware of negative press, radio and TV attention, and the fact that two petitions protesting your decision have quickly reached over 2,000 signatures. In addition, local MP/Parliamentary candidate, Clive Lewis, has been quoted as saying:

"This reminds me very much of the University's motivation for closing the music department - their first motivation wasn't to provide services for public good but business and profit instead. Our universities really must get the balance right between being a viable institution and serving wider public interests".

Of course, we are not suggesting you should instantly succumb to pressure, but doesn’t the breadth and depth of concern give you pause for thought?

Amongst the many issues raised in our e-mail that you have ignored, we wish to mention the following:

(1) You have not responded to our request for a meeting;

(2) You have not reassured us that a proper and open process of consultation was followed;

(3) You have not given any information about what steps are to be taken to enable certificate students to progress to the diploma programme which was advertised and to which large numbers of applications were made. In this connection, we refer to UEA’s recent undertakings to the CMA to “improve its approach to dealing with course changes”. It is particularly concerning that that application deadlines for other diploma programmes  (and/or next level training courses) were mostly closed and places offered by the time of students’ being notified of UEA’s actions.

(4) You have not responded to our concerns over the impact of these decisions on your counselling service. We think serious issues of quality and diversity will now arise. Such considerations will also apply to counselling services in the local area where UEA students on placement make a particular and highly valued contribution.

We now wish to comment on the various points you have made, as follows:

(a) The various other institutions that you aver can provide similar trainings cannot in fact do so. The University of Essex course you mention is specifically of a psychodynamic nature and hence is not suitable (Professor Samuels knows this because he works in the department). The other courses are not in any way commensurate with a long-established and nationally appreciated full-time university diploma. Either you know this and are ignoring it, or you don’t know.

(b) You and your colleagues have inadvertently and inappropriately taken one side of a long-running dispute within the therapy world. This is between the in-depth and relationship-based work of counselling and psychotherapy on the one hand – and, on the other, the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) wellbeing and CBT treatments. You are scrapping course connected with the former in favour of enhancing courses connected with the latter. We note that these IAPT-oriented courses are offered by your clinical psychologists who therefore cannot be neutral in this matter.

The fact is that there is a huge difference between these two kinds of therapy, and your university has not been properly briefed on the matter. For example, are you aware of the rising tide of opinion that proper counselling (such as the Person-centred Counselling and Psychotherapy taught at UEA) should be offered in IAPTs (an offer of choice that is included in NICE guidelines) because many patients need this as opposed to CBT and wellbeing work? This failure in information is another reason for suggesting a meeting, one that usefully might include the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) with whom PCU is in close communication.

We respectfully suggest that your reference to “a greater alignment of courses” within the School of Education and Lifelong Learning is not a true indicator of what is going on here. Nor is the rather veiled reference to student numbers (in relation to a programme that has a pattern of being oversubscribed, with a waiting list) of much use in discovering the reasons for your closure of the courses. 

Finally, it has become clear to us that you are attempting to prevent staff and students from speaking out about these developments. We suggest you desist.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Bagnall-Oakeley (Chair, PCU)

Professor Andrew Samuels (Academic Advisor, PCU and former chair UK Council for Psychotherapy)

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