Opinion: Embracing and running with change

Date 4.02.2019

As the College of Policing roll out a new education framework Dr Steve O’Brien, Dean of the Faculty of Health and Society, talks about these changes and how University of Northampton is supporting the College and what current, serving officers stand to gain from a university qualification.


History has a habit of repeating itself.

Take nursing, a profession I qualified from back in the early 80’s.

Then, nursing education was vocational, with learning taking place in hospitals, using knowledge passed down through generations.

Nowadays, nurses are educated in University’s where they receive a degree, a change that reflects how the profession has grown, based on evidence-based studies and involving critical decision making across a range of complex, ethical situations.

It is right and necessary that patients are cared for by degree level trained nurses, as all the evidence indicates that patient mortality and complications decrease.


Flash forward a few years and I find myself in an educational ‘Groundhog Day’, at a meeting with police learning and development teams about moving the force to the place nursing is and guiding them through the journey toward ‘professionalisation.’

At this point, I’ll correct myself. ‘Professionalisation’ is a bit misleading when talking about the police – they are already professional and have been throughout their history.

But we now live in the world of cyber-crime, terrorism and people trafficking, highly organised criminality that is constantly evolving. Policing, naturally, needs to evolve as well, a process the force has tentatively started.

Of course, any police officer worth their salt knows that policing is already challenging, as well as rewarding.

The point I argued at the meeting was that a set of skills is now required to enhance officers’ already admirable toolkit of knowledge and behaviours, to better prepare them for changes across the criminal landscape, skills commensurate with achieving a university degree.


With this in mind, the College of Policing are setting new standards in policing training and development and have published a new education framework setting out their vision of where the force will be by 2025.

Initially, their focus is on preparing new recruits for their careers through courses such as those offered at University of Northampton.

The College’s plans for instilling professional qualifications for serving officers is the second phase and obviously requires different conversations.

This is where my colleagues and I in the Faculty of Health and Society come in, helping the force avoid the bumps in the road that nursing encountered.

At University of Northampton we offer serving, or recently retired, officers a year-long degree in Advance Criminal Justice Studies. Officers with sufficient operational experience join the final year of the course, qualifying with the same degree as their undergraduate peers.

Gaining the degree is not about academic snobbery and getting a qualification – on their own, they are just letters after your name. A policing degree is about officers fine-honing their thinking and the benefits this can bring to them, the service and the outside world.


At present, the force is still working through the challenges, as well as the opportunities, of the College’s vision. Some, such as those in the East Midlands Policing Academic Collaboration and with who the University works alongside, recognise this and are fully engaged in the curriculum changes.

There has been disquiet in some quarters, which is understandable. No one, after all, likes change.  But whether we like it or not, it happens and can be for the greater good.

At the event I attended, I was asked the same questions senior nurses faced decades before – and I gave similar answers.

The world is different and public-sector workers like the police need to be on the front foot. Life outside the police station is changing and modern officers need to keep steps ahead and react accordingly.

It’s also vital to provide continuing professional development for current police officers. Because, unless you get that right, the environment that your new recruits come into will struggle to facilitate their development.


As with nursing, there are many more meetings and discussions needed in the police force to help them embrace and run with these changes.

My colleagues and I at University of Northampton will be working with them over the next few years and beyond, helping ensure that when history does indeed repeat itself, it will do so as comfortably as possible.


Find out more about the Applied Criminal Justice Studies ‘Top-Up’ course at University of Northampton.