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Educated workforce: Police officers should have degrees

Do you need a degree to police? Forthcoming changes to police recruitment suggest the police service believes you do. National Crime Agency Officer and Special Jack Irvine offers his own perspective on the merits or otherwise of the new routes into policing. His views are his own.

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.  

Perceived negatives

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.

6 Responses to “Educated workforce: Police officers should have degrees”

  1. Stephen Murchie says:

    Interesting article but I struggle to understand what point is being made? There are certain specialisms in the police that would require a degree. However policing doesn’t view it that way hence they cannot attract the right candidates. Cyber crime is on the rise yet a basic constable is £23k PA. So you won’t attract an IT graduate as they will have to still do 2 years probatation and beat duties. Or alternatively have civilian specialists, but again forces cannot pay for these skills. Its time for Chiefs to get their heads out the sand ans the government to invest in national systems that can share data effectively to reduce costs and catch bad guys.

  2. Jack Irvine says:

    Hi Steve, thanks for the comment.

    I recommend reading about the the PEQF and police entry methods on the college of policing website. With addition to the police recruitment review, new CVF and the new day one recruit assessment centre.

    My apologies I don’t know your background and if the above is complete jargon to you.

    In a nutshell, policing is changing to graduate only entry. 2 are specific police degrees, 1 is a conversion for a degree holder in a different subject.

    I was trying to ‘myth bust’ as it were as the whole point of overhauling the recruitment system has been missed. The success of nurse recruitment should be a good indication but some think that this has in fact not worked – I fail to see why.

    I am trying to explain that although police will have ‘degrees’ it isn’t what you would class as traditional degrees. There is a lot more than just sitting in a lecture hall and doing assignments.

    But to design a programme appropriate for policing and the amount that must be known now is difficult. The societal changes have rendered the IPLDP out of date – this is discussed at length on the CoP website.

    The issue I am having is people are failing to read everything and are just jumping to the conclusion that it is all about the degree. Police absolutely do not need a bog standard degree. But they need a training programme.

    One with mixed method learning, experienced trainers and an appropriate duration. Giving them the degree is merely recognising just how much police must know and do.

    They could just design a training programme; where you complete it and get a job. But other professions are miles ahead of us with accrediting their staff. This will help officers open pathways out of the service.

    A common occurrence I have seen on LinkedIn is people aren’t reading the resources. They know very little about the current recruitment and probably less about the changes coming in with PEQF.

    The service is still looking for the usual qualities of a PC. But they will now be recognised for what they are doing in a modernised training programme.

    IT graduates would be able to do the degree holder conversion course. The PCDA has began but we are still waiting on details for the other two programmes.

    I mention in the article that there is an imbalance between the three. This is my biggest concern.

    Kind regards


  3. Jack Irvine says:

    When I mention pathways out of service – I mean after they have retired.

  4. Simon371 says:

    As an officer about to retire after 30 years without a degree I do have some concerns that this will reduce the pool of talent that we have available to us. I know some brilliant police officers who are graduates, and I also know some brilliant officers who aren’t.

    Do we really understand the demographic that this will appeal to? I work in an area that has a large population of Eastern European, Middle Eastern and Asian communities, many of whom are becoming British citizens. This is the talent pool we ought to be fishing in, but I suspect that as 1st or 2nd generation migrants, becoming a graduate will be a greater challenge for many of these people. Many come from a very poor background overseas with little or no education, and still have some language barriers to overcome.

    As a father of two teenage daughters I seem to have spent the last few years of my life visiting virtually every university in the land, it certainly feels like it. Although these institutions are largely fantastic places to be, one thing that stood out to me as I worked my way around them, the other people that is saw whilst I was there. Mostly white, English, and more than likely from a reasonably financially stable background.

    I have no doubt that many of these people would make excellent police officers, but I also believe that many others who will never dream of getting close to this environment will also make excellent police officers. I do understand that the graduate entry into policing is slightly different, but it is still a requirement that the candidate becomes a graduate. If we continue down this line are we targeting our recruitment at that demographic, white, English, and more likely from a financially stable background. If we are, then we are potentially turning our back on the communities that we should be getting closer to by bringing them directly into the policing family as police officers.

    I do understand that life has changed dramatically since I joined the police many years ago, and policing should reflect life. One of those changes is that more and more students are going to Universities, but another change is that we are now benefitting as a nation from the wonderful diverse cultures that we have attracted here over recent decades.

    Although policing has changed dramatically, in some respects it hasn’t changed at all; we police to protect our communities and I think it is accepted that the more communities we have working in the police service, the better that service is.

  5. Jack Irvine Jack Irvine says:

    Hi Simon,

    Many thanks for the comment and your service. I wish you a happy retirement and the best of luck with your future.

    I feel that is a fair comment to make – being a graduate does not necessarily make a good police officer and I am in complete agreement with that. However, police degrees are relatively new in comparison to degrees in other subjects that have been going for decades, and these new PEQF degrees are entirely new. I fear that it may be difficult to draw conclusion from officers who have graduated in other fields and how proficient they are as police officers. I am extremely worried about the three programmes and how vastly they differ from each other as I think it may create inconsistent standards.

    I completely agree with the concerns around diversity and inclusion. The PCDA programme would, in my opinion, be more attractive to candidates as it is funded by the force and the chances of getting a job are higher. That being said, the capacity of each PCDA cohort is going to limit how many can actually use this entry method per year (and I imagine it will be very competitive).

    If the PCDA cohorts are filled, this leaves new starters without degrees one option; to self-fund a Pre-Join Degree, which may deter less financially stable candidates. The college of policing have undertaken a dynamic equality impact assessment (available at: which details more surrounding this topic.

    The current recruitment process uses A-Level education standards and it will be similar for the new entry onto the programmes, but there are ‘access courses’ to enable people to apply to higher education who may not already have the required grades. There is also plenty of support available from forces around positive action that may assist all candidates.

    Kind regards,


  6. Jack Irvine Jack Irvine says:

    I’ll attach some useful links:

    Competency and Values Framework:

    Policing Education Qualifications Framework (PEQF)

    Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA) – Includes Assessment Standards and Plan

    PEQF Supporting Resources

    Responding to Recommendations

    Next Steps

    Review of Police Initial Recruitment

    Day One Recruit Assessment Centre

    NPCC Apprenticeships Pay

    Professional Development Platform (for staff looking to transfer experience to academic credit)

    Equality Impact Analysis (available on)

    NPCC 2025 Vision

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