Social Work

Social Work

Social Work

Upon the end of the 1992-1995 civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the social work institutions in the Republic of Srpska confronted numerous changes in the field.  What is more, these changes concerned the entire environment as well, which exerts a crucial influence on the nature and aims of the field. In this respect, the key factors that led to the increase in the number of beneficiaries of these services, a further complication of the existing social issues, and the emergence of new ones were a great number of war casualties, the notion of split families, which was no longer in the situation of fulfilling the protective function that is traditionally attributed to it, increased poverty, an increased number of disabled persons, and an increase in unemployment.  This also meant new challenges in terms of functionality and sustainability of the social work system that had to adjust to altered social, economic, and political circumstances.

Thus, the field of social work, although incapacitated itself, started to search for ways to respond to the newly-established social conditions, to deal with issues, and to develop long-term policies that would enable fulfillment of the mission of modern-day social work, emanating from  the internationally acknowledged definition of this human enterprise. As both a practice-based profession and an academic discipline, it had to become a part of change, since it contains in itself the idea of   promotion of social changes and strengthening of social cohesion, as well as of enhancement and liberation of human beings.  Its especially significant domain of action is providing support and aid to sensitive groups and communities that do not have enough resources to face the on-going changes, which leaves them in the state of social need. 

One of the responses to the aforementioned challenges was an investment in human resources, that is, in the education of young people for the field of social work. Through formal studies of social work, a society gains qualified people to cope with complex social circumstances and a wide area of interaction concerning individuals, social groups, and communities.

The initiative to establish the Study Programme of Social Work at the Faculty of Philosophy of Banja Luka came from the members of the Association of Social Work Professionals of the Republic of Srpska, the only organised group in the Republic of Srpska that gathered social workers and other professions employed with institutions of social work, who were highly motivated to improve every aspect of the field.   This idea was accepted by the management of the faculty and renowned scholars engaged with the field from the former Yugoslavia region, primarily by the professors of social work from the Faculty of Political Sciences of the University of Belgrade.

Furthermore, the idea was strongly supported by the Kingdom of Sweden through the Swedish Agency for International Development (SIDA), which provided financial aid, staff, and other forms of assistance during the first seven years of the existence of the study programme.

The original curriculum, launched in 2000, defined a four-year study programme, and its concept comprised theoretical and practical knowledge and skills, aimed at developing initiatives, entrepreneurship, and abilities to manage social services in a community, to make decisions that contribute to the well-being of beneficiaries of social work services, to help, protect, and represent vulnerable community members, to act in an insecure and changing environment, to monitor social needs, to examine social phenomena and issues and deal with them, to run various projects, to handle various information, and to creatively integrate the knowledge and practices of social work and social policies. 

The objectives of academic study of social work emanate from the objectives of higher education. In relation to this, its basic objective is ‘gaining, developing, protecting, and transferring knowledge and skills by means of teaching and scholarly research, with a view to contributing to the development of an individual and society on the whole’ (Article 4 of the Law on Higher Education of the Republic of Srpska).  This objective is contained within the objectives of education of social workers, and these are as follows:

1. Gaining professional competences in social workers in  terms of realisation of their professional role, purpose, and methods of work;

2. Enabling students to choose and apply adequate methods of work by means of which professional goals and objectives can be achieved in relation to the issues identified in all areas of engagement of social workers; 

3. Training first cycle students for researching into the nature of structured practice –process of social work –and discussing its relation towards the theory of social work;

4. Gaining competences for continuation of education and professional training.

As far as the joint history with the Faculty of Philosophy is concerned, there was the total of 591 students, with the first class starting their studies immediately after the programme had been licensed.  

In 2006, following the transition of the higher education area to the Bologna Declaration system, the amendments to the curriculum took place in that the 3+2 study programme was introduced. However, the second cycle never saw implementation, since it was concluded that the first cycle, designed the way it was, did not meet the requirements of social work practice. It was, in fact, the students who asked for the return to a 4-year model concerning the first cycle, which was realised by the so-called ‘transitory curriculum’ in the 2007-2010 period.

The new curriculum was licensed in 2010, introducing the 4+1 model of studies.  It responded to the challenges of the Bologna process by defining objectives, general and specific competences, and learning outcomes, by specifying the ECTS system for each subject and overall studies, by allowing for obligatory and elective subjects, by affirming the new system of assessment and grading, by determining the volume of mandatory and optional reading lists, and by incorporating practical work as an integral part of academic studies of social work. 

With the establishment of the Faculty of Political Sciences as a new organisational unit of the University of Banja Luka, the updated programme fostered its position as one of the leading social work studies of the region, whose graduates are capable of meeting the requirements of social work practice across the whole of Europe.

Throughout the 2000-2011 period, this study programme depended entirely on the engagement of visiting professors dealing with the field of social work, coming from Sweden, Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia. As far as other subjects are concerned, these classes were covered by the members of staff from other study programmes of the University of Banja Luka.  Over the course of years, the study programme grew in terms of teaching and research capacity, with an increased number of social work professionals engaged in the educational process who made substantial academic progress during the period designated, resulting in 5 associate professors, 1 assistant professor, and 3 senior teaching assistants responsible for the field of social work in 2019. In that way, there are only 2 visiting professors now hired at the second cycle.

Consequently, this made room for updates of the study programme. The first of these, in 2013, was of a lesser degree, with new subjects introduced corresponding to the amendments in the area of social security legislation of the Republic of Srpska. The second one, in 2016, meant amendments on a greater scale. This latest revision, inspired by solidifying the staff in academic terms, led to the harmonisation of the programme with the Global Standards of Social Workers Education (adopted by the General Assembly of the International Federation of Social Workers, held in 2004, and supported by the European Association of Schools of Social Work), and to the licensing of the new curriculum in 2016. This curriculum was introduced in the 2017/2018 academic year, so now there are 2 valid curricula running parallel, which requires additional engagement of all members of staff in terms of education-related issues.  

Over the course of 4-year studies, students gain various theoretical and methodological knowledge from the wide spectrum of sociological, legal, political, psychological, and pedagogical disciplines. The key position is reserved for the disciplines under the umbrella of the field of social work, sub-divided in narrow fields of Social Policy, Theories and Methodology of Social Work, and Areas of Social Work respectively. An important source of knowledge is mandatory practice, organised in social security institutions, educational and health care institutions, administrative bodies, non-governmental organisations, and competent ministries, under the watchful eye of an experienced supervisor. 

Although the amendments to the curriculum were designed to increase the number of subjects from the field of social work at the expense of complementary disciplines relevant to social work studies, the balance was maintained at all times.

In terms of learning outcomes, graduates should be able to:

–          acquire and understand basic scholarly and professional knowledge from the theories of social work, basic methodical procedures (work with an individual, work with a group, and work in a community), social policy and related areas, as well as of political, sociological, psychological, pedagogical, and legal disciplines relevant to social work;

–          acquire knowledge and skills by means of mandatory practical work organised in social security institutions, educational and health care institutions, administrative bodies, non-governmental organisations, and competent ministries, under the watchful eye of an experienced mentor;

–          apply the acquired knowledge and skills by demonstrating the professional approach and competences in their work;

–          be capable of collecting data on and analysing contemporary trends of social work and social policy within the existing social context and understand their interconnectedness and causality;

–          establish communication within the social work domain and its surrounding and transfer information, ideas, problems, and solutions to professional circles;

–          develop learning skills necessary for their further formal and life-long education.