Located near Stuttgart in the south of Germany, Esslingen University of Applied Sciences offers a bachelor’s degree course (7 semesters, 210 ECTS) as well as a masters’ degree course (3 semesters, 90 ECTS) in social work with an intake of 93 students per semester in the bachelor’s course and 35 students per year in the master’s course. We decided to integrate the SUI seminar into the BA-level course as we found a high level of congruence between the professional competencies described for the BA level in the qualification framework introduced above (Professional general abilities and attitudes in social work, Personal Characteristics and Attitudes) and the aims of SUI programs. This does not imply, however, that we consider QFSW area F and G the only reasonable targets for SUI approaches at the BA level; rather, this can be thought of as an initial step. The decision to implement an SUI course in Esslingen was inspired by earlier work by the PowerUs network (PowerUs 2013).
Curriculum of the BA in Social Work in Esslingen
To understand the context in which the SUI seminar was implemented, it is necessary to give a brief overview of the curriculum: students obtain 210 ECTS over the course of 7 semesters with one semester (usually the fourth) as an internship of at least 100 days in a social work setting. The first two semesters form the first part of the course (with a heavy emphasis on basic knowledge) while the third to the seventh semesters form the second part of course . The contents are organized into six study areas (I. Societal context of social work, II. Individuals and groups within their living environment, III. Organizational framework of social work, IV. Social work as a profession and V. Social work as a science and discipline and VI. Social work as an area of intervention) and a number of different modes of teaching are employed (e.g. lectures, seminars, internships with accompanying theory-practice seminars).
One of the elements in area VI (“intervention”), an elective course, seemed especially suitable for implementing an SUI approach: the “project seminar” which is taught during the 5th and 6th semester and thus spans a whole year and carries 16 ECTS. According to the module handbook, the aim of the project seminar is to draw on the experiences gained during the internship in the fourth semester and the theoretical content of the earlier semesters by initiating a project that brings together theory and practice. More specifically, students are expected to plan, conduct and evaluate a joint enterprise based in an area of social work, and combining elements of theory and practice. This module offers ample opportunities for both teachers and students (and, in this case, service users) to design a project that is in line with basic ideas of SUI and which can be understood as an attempt to “mend the gap”. The concept of “gap mending” was introduced by the PowerUs network (PowerUs 2013) which emphasized the importance of bridging discrepancies between theoretical knowledge and the experiential knowledge of service users. Other areas where gap mending seems especially relevant are gaps between the professional role and the person of the helper, gaps between professionals and clients and also between teachers and students.