Should police have degrees? This is a discussion that is unlikely to end anytime soon and will likely rage for many years to come and there are persuasive arguments on either side.
For clarification, the three routes into policing via PEQF will be a Police Constable Degree-Apprenticeship (PCDA), Degree-holder programme (or graduate conversion) and a Pre-join Police Degree.
The PCDA is a three-year programme, paid for by the force. The student receives a wage and a potential job at the end. The student is affiliated with a police force from day one. They must pass the new SEARCH assessment centre to be accepted onto the PCDA.
The decline in a diversity of age should not be seen as a threat, as people who wish to drop out of any job and transition into such a career would be afforded the same challenge with any other profession.
The Degree-holder programme is a two-year programme for those holding degrees in any subject. They will be paid a salary from day one and join as a police officer. They must also pass SEARCH before joining the course.
The Police Degree programme is funded by the student, they are not paid a wage, they have no mandatory requirement to become a Special Constable and they are not affiliated with a force. They must apply separately after completion of the degree and undertake the new SEARCH assessment centre after completion. More information is available on the College of Policing website.
The changes mean policing will become a ‘graduate’ profession with all officers eventually holding a degree-level qualification, but what impact will this have on the service?
One concern I have heard is that it will lead to a decline in applications. I believe it will attract as many applicants as the process does now, however the age range will be lower due to the difference in wages over the three years of apprentice pay.
A paid-for degree, earning and learning and the promise of a long and worthwhile career after completion could be the saving grace of a vastly under-resourced service, it just depends on the capacity and output of these programmes and how well they balance the learning methods (there must be experiential learning on the job).
The decline in a diversity of age should not be seen as a threat, as people who wish to drop out of any job and transition into such a career would be afforded the same challenge with any other profession. One could not simply change to a career as a doctor, nurse or engineer. It is also not uncommon to see mature students on undergraduate degrees, so the perceived impact could be negligible. Life experience does not automatically come with age. To put things into perspective we have 16-year olds in the armed forces, assuming age will be a negative factor is beneficial to nobody not when there are other issues we should be looking at. Besides I hear time and again, ‘I joined at 18 when the national police training centres still existed’.
Policing is not limited to an art and craft but is also a complete social science – it is people you are dealing with, whether they are victims, suspects, offenders, the public or colleagues.
Having been on a pre-PEQF police degree; my ability to look beyond and question things has vastly benefited how I learn more about policing. A degree does not de facto mean academic drivel; the lessons of looking deeper and seeing the causation of real-life events and their impact on policing a modern-society is absolutely essential.
Overall, policing is not limited to an art and craft but is also a complete social science – it is people you are dealing with, whether they are victims, suspects, offenders, the public or colleagues. Common sense takes you so far, but there is a lot more to it than that, especially in the current climate. I completely understand that there are strict limitations on how much can be learnt in the classroom, that is why these degrees utilise experiential learning alongside the expectations of a degree.
The reality is, it is similar to the IPLDP but more thorough with a focus on other relevant subjects such as psychology. The absence of psychology in policing in the past clearly evidences significant shortfalls in policing. A new way should not be disregarded because it has never been needed before.
Policing is on a constant evolutionary trial period and will most likely be forever changing. The challenges police face now are in their simplest form similar but inevitably more complex. Reflective practice is one key example; it is a concept that has been around for decades, but its use within professional organisations is relatively new.
Operationally, advancements in how we understand domestic abuse is another example with the use of the Duluth Model (Domestic Abuse Intervention Programme) and seven stages of control and how they can help influence practical decision making and how abuse incidents are dealt with (by understanding the victim’s mindset) is invaluable. The point being there is an endless amount that can be included in the police officer’s toolbox: a structured programme with a variety of learning and training methods over an appropriate length of time is likely to achieve a favourable result.
A single route into policing (similar to the PCDA) with an additional programme for a conversion course (similar to the degree-holder programme) would likely create equal-footing for all.
I will not comment extensively on the direct-entry programmes for any position, from detective to inspector and superintendent. I believe chronological progression is essential for the police service to respect each role and those that hold the role by skipping, leapfrogging or streamlining the ranks negates that respect. To hold a higher position than experience allows is demeaning to those who worked to reach that position. The police service has enough talent within to fill promotion roles.
This is not to say those in DE supervision roles are incapable, they may provide ‘a fresh perspective’, it is merely they cannot fully appreciate operational policing (as they have never done it, or not done it long enough – DE to Inspector or Superintendent is a similar duration to a PC probationary period). Upon reflection, I believe they must go back to the drawing board with direct-entry detectives scheme and seek another solution.
My colleagues have a range of views on what qualifications are needed to police, some valid, some less so which I have set out below. I’d like to tackle each in turn, from my perspective as a Pre-PEQF policing degree graduate, police Masters student, NCA officer and special constable.
“Me and my colleagues entered with no qualifications and acquired experience over the years, a degree is not needed.”
I don’t really know how to answer this without coming across condescending. It isn’t as much about the degree as a qualification, more so what the actual programme has the potential to provide the individual (if it is done right). The ‘degree’ itself is accrediting the student with essentially what they would be doing on the IPLDP (but more) in a universally recognised way.
“Policing just requires common sense.”
Possibly the most frustrating phrase being thrown about. Common sense will get you so far; effective training, coaching and experience will further this, but it is a lot to do with the individual themselves (applying KUSAB). A combination of classroom learning (academic studies, theories and knowledge for practical and operational policing), experiential learning (out with a tutor constable doing the job) and self-directed study (research, reflection and understanding) will, in my opinion, prepare student officers for the challenge of modern-day policing. Such commitment (to these long programmes) may also improve future retention rates within the service.
“It will be elitist and discriminatory.”
How? Anybody who meets the required grades (they are not unreasonable) can apply. There has to be some educational threshold to meet – the job requires officers to write statements, take other people’s statements and often then present this to courts as one example.
“People cannot just drop out and change career, the money (apprentice pay) is not enough to live on.”
They would also not be able to spontaneously become a doctor, teacher, engineer or nurse to name a few without an element of risk or financial sacrifice.
“No academic qualification can compare with experience.”
Perhaps not. But it is a proven way of balancing training and learning for a variety of other professions.
“Police do not need to be academics.”
The majority will not be, and those that choose to be (there are some serving now) have every right to do so. As I have already mentioned, this is not a traditional degree. They will be learning and training to become PCs, not ‘academics’. Contributing to a field of study should not be seen as a threat to practitioners.
My perceived negatives
My biggest concerns are the balance between the three programmes and the likelihood of a job promised for those investing such a long time and an initial shortage of job-ready officers.
Will there be inequality between those on Police Degrees, the Police Degree Apprenticeship and the Graduate Conversion?
Each programme has distinctive formats. I believe it is the inherent structure that will make balancing them difficult. The PCDA and degree-holder programme affiliate the student with a force in the first instance, whereas the pre-join degree does not. A single route into policing (similar to the PCDA) with an additional programme for a conversion course (similar to the degree-holder programme) would likely create equal-footing for all.
Are those committed to these entry methods, once successfully completed, guaranteed a position as a PC immediately after the course concludes?
The whole process lacks consistency and balance. Why would anybody apply to a police degree other than if they do not get onto a PCDA programme?
There is no guaranteed job at the end of it, although the PCDA’s benefit of force-affiliation makes it in their best interest to employ you (if you have passed) as it is their investment.
The degree-programme entry method requires students to apply to their chosen force after completion, where further recruitment processes occur.
It would be hugely frustrating for those not on the PCDA or conversion programme to complete a degree and then fail the new SEARCH assessment centre. The whole process lacks consistency and balance. Why would anybody apply to a police degree other than if they do not get onto a PCDA programme? They will not get paid, not get experience unless they separately apply to be a Special Constable (not required as part of the programme) and will have to self-fund their programme.
Will there be an initial shortage when the methods begin? PCDA Year 1 will have one cohort, Year 2 will have two cohorts, Year 3 will have three cohorts. End of Year 3 will see the first new starters of this method. This depends on if all forces have adopted the new entry routes but will probably have a very low impact in the grand scheme of things.
Is the process overly complex?
I feel that the entry routes have been made overly complex for something which could have been as straight forward as a single main route (the PCDA or Student Finance Funded mixed degree similar to nursing) for new starters and a graduate conversion or professional conversion course for those within a law enforcement or similar relevant role wishing to transfer to operational frontline policing.
Individual Higher Education Institutions and police forces must be accountable for their respective courses and ensure adequate balance so the end result is competent and job-ready police officers.
The pre-join degree programme can see students pass their degree with no element of operational policing experience. The degree-holder programme is a year shorter than the other two. Could this lead to inconsistent standards of training? Will the quality of officers depend on the entry method they have used to join? How will this be quality assured?
Duration of the course
The length of time does not differ vastly from the current IPLDP and Probation format. I urge those concerned to read the curricula of these programmes and assess the balance of experiential learning with classroom learning and self-study.
I believe it to be the case that individual Higher Education Institutions and police forces must be accountable for their respective courses and ensure adequate balance so the end result is competent and job-ready police officers. Anything less is unacceptable. Only time will tell if a longer training period before becoming a PC on probation will be successful.
Graduates are not generic
The frustration I endured reading comments on social media from serving officers was what encouraged me to write this.
“Graduates are not the answer”, “Police do not need to be academics”, “Police do not need degrees; they need common sense”. There is no generic graduate. There are a multitude of fields of study and there are different degrees and formats of learning.
Those that embark on the new policing degree entry routes will most likely have some idea regarding the reality of what they will face at the end of it (no less than those applying now). They will be the same people that are applying now – with the added bonus of a paid-for degree (if on PCDA).
Rather than thinking of it as three years of some philosophical drivel or studies, think of it as an extended training programme taught by those that have done the job (retired officers lecturing at university), coached by those doing the job (tutor constables with their force) and underpinned through self-study and reflection – with the recognition for what they have achieved.
The degree puts them on an equal-footing with other professions. Are the police not worthy of this? Transferable skills will benefit officers in life after policing; it provides pathways. The ‘degree’ is but a name for what will be a challenging and fulfilling journey for those going into policing.
So, what’s the verdict?
The mix of entry routes provide an imbalance and those considering joining should definitely do adequate research into the new routes as one seems more worthwhile and less risky than the others.
Overall, I believe this is a step in the right direction, but it is far from ideal. The mix of entry routes provide an imbalance and those considering joining should definitely do adequate research into the new routes as one seems more worthwhile and less risky than the others. If done correctly I believe the PCDA will yield competent high-performing police officers.
The views expressed in this article are entirely my own.