Why aren’t more social work students joining the AASW?

older graduate image This year there are approximately 14,500 students enrolled in social work across Australia; a staggering number! (the entire membership of the AASW is only 10,000).

In 2017 we can expect around 1,200 graduates from qualifying masters programs, and 1,700 from bachelors programs.

Which universities are doing the heavy lifting? Actual figures from 2014 indicated that five universities had enrolments of more than 500 students. These were the University of South Australia with 778, Charles Sturt with 676, Western Sydney University with 550, Latrobe with 546, and Deakin with 528.

The AASW keeps its student membership numbers secret (why?). Nevertheless, I can be confident in guessing that AASW student membership is a tiny proportion of 14,500.

When I talk with students about this, a few themes emerge,

  • Many students are in abject poverty and the membership fee is beyond their means
  •  some students see the AASW requirements around recognition of prior learning, and  placement hours and attendance as punitive and irrational
  • Exposure to AASW marketing is on campus is patchy or limited

I would add to this by saying that in my estimate, only around 50% of social work academics are members of the AASW.

Boosting student membership is an issue of real urgency. The future health of the social work profession is in the hands of the next generation.

We must have,

  • a $10 membership for students
  • free mentoring for students and new graduates
  • a memorandum of understanding between Heads of Schools of Social Work and the AASW that guarantees regular access to students for marketing purposes
  • a placement regime that strikes a sensible balance between outcomes and hours
  • an AASW student club on every campus
  • a national student advisory body



This entry was posted in AASW Election 2017, AASW Policy and Strategy, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Why aren’t more social work students joining the AASW?

  1. Rachael says:

    Hi Vittorio,

    As a student, I couldn’t agree more. I am a member of AASW and when speaking to other students they normally say they have not joined due to their finances.
    I myself will continue to be an AASW member because I am looking at the bigger picture and know that it will be of great benefit.

    My AASW student membership benefits currently are receiving the quarterly academic journal and being able to state that I am a member on my resume. Some students have questioned me on this as even being a benefit and others have stated that they would join only if and when they felt it was a necessity.

    There are some great AASW accredited courses/events/seminars that I have access to however the ones of interest to me are the ones you have to pay for and even at the discounted student rate they are far too expensive.

    From my experience, there is a need for more benefits and reasons why a student should join the AASW.

  2. Mark Wilder says:

    Thank you for addressing and teasing-out some of the issues on this MrV. Indeed why would students join the Association when there is such limited value for money. We owe it to students to welcome, support and to informally mentor them as was done for many of us as students. I am so pleased to see you commit to this important matter as part of your current campaign pledge.

  3. Paul Henderson says:

    I would agree with Rachael, membership to the AASW is way to expensive, (even $55) most students can simply not afford to spare that type of money living a hand-to-mouth existence from week to week. Personally, I have only been able as a mature-aged social work student able to afford it from my Austudy payment that I get at the commencement of each new semester, without that I most certainly would not be able to afford membership to the AASW. Also, the cost of courses that are advertised through the AASW are also way to expensive for students (even with the student discount). In three years of membership I have attended just one function that I got to network with other future social workers. To use a cliche, current students are the future of the AASW and they should in my opinion at most pay no more than $20 per year during their time at university. Those four years should be used by the AASW to help nurture future social workers and help them realise that further education, networking, lobbying, industry news, international studies, and NDIS updates relevant to social work practices throughout Australia should be ingrained into the minds of current social work students into their working lives after graduation. The AASW is simply not known well enough at the grass-roots, on university campus’s. There needs to be much greater efforts by AASW management to spread the word of the association. Currently, they are poorly serving new students to the benefits of being part of the AASW. This change has to come from the “top down” to help alleviate this problem of many social work students not knowing about the AASW and what purpose it serves to its members.

  4. Ali says:

    Thank you for acknowledging the financial burden of the Social Work degree, and also for raising the issue of the ‘punitive and irrational’ RPL and placement requirements for students. I have yet to join the AASW and am unsure if I will do so upon completion of my degree.
    I am currently studying a MSW (Qualifying) as an external student having an undergraduate degree in nursing with close to 20 years of work experience in health, disability and community organisations. I am really struggling to see the value of 1000 hours of placement at a Masters level where the majority of students have worked in or are currently working in human services fields. To say nothing of the financial hardship and family stress that it causes students.
    The other thing is that keeping placement at 1000 hours means that only the most privileged students can meet the requirements. You need to be financially secure, healthy and with a solid support network in order to commit to months and months of unpaid work. For a profession that is supposedly about equity and social justice, I don’t think that this is acceptable.

    • Ben says:

      Thanks for this, I completely agree. It seems absolutely ludicrous to me that a student with 20 years nursing experience should still be required to complete a full 1000 hours of placement. Baffling. I think students would benefit much more from smaller ‘taster’ placements conducted throughout the degree, coupled with more practical course content that could be integrated throughout. Not all placements are created equal either. A 500 hour placement in a structured learning environment with adequate supervision, mentoring, varied learning experiences and at least a small case load component would be/is rewarding. However, that same 500 hours in an unstructured community placement with limited learning opportunities and external supervision is far too long. I’m doing a placement like this at the moment, and although I love the work and have learned a lot from my time at the organisation, I could’ve easily had the same quality of experience in 200 or 250 hours. I feel like now with 100 hours left to go I’m just treading water, bored and resenting being used as free labour in a position that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the ‘resource’ that is social work placement students. I could have completed say 200 hours in two different organisations and had a far richer experience than 500 in one.

  5. Manish Poudel says:

    I am in a situation where I should agree or disagree with the AASW membership or skill assessment. I am an International student graduated from Master of Social Work degree 2 years ago and completely unemployed, barred from AASW skill assessment requirements and both financially and mental stress.

    The reason I am explaining about disagreeing with AASW membership and skill assessment is due to their high requirements of membership for eligibility of AASW. After completing my degree, I searched for many jobs around Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and many in regional places of Australia. Waiting for almost 6 months to get a job reply with unsuccessful due to their requirements for AASW membership eligibility.
    Maybe this sounds not hard for getting a membership but on my condition, I am an overseas student requires English Language test (i.e. IELTS band score 7 each). It is my thirteen attempts of giving IELTS test from Brisbane and got three components above 7 scores except Writing stuck with 6.5 scores.

    I also noticed that AASW only accept IELTS English test which I felt unfair for overseas students as many other assessing bodies are accepting other language tests such as PTE, TOEFL etc. and it has been almost more than two years, AASW English Language Policy has been same till date. I am on a working visa but not able to get some experience or a job in my own field of study made me frustrated, emotionally hurt, financially broke giving the test many times and at the end of my visa.

    • Babu says:

      Hi Manish,

      I am in the same boat. AASW is really rigid as IELTS with their English policy while all other professions including nursing, physiotherapy, etc accepted other English tests like PTE.

      Are you still in Australia and found a good job in the field?

    • Sulochana Bajracharya says:

      I have the same feeling and in a similar situation. Although completing 2 years THE MASTERS DEGREE QUALIFYING with 1000 hours of placement in one the Australian UNIVERSITIES in Australia, where only English was spoken all the times during the study and at the clinical field we still have to show English eligibility and score 7 each band in IELTS. I have attempted 8 times already, and have scored 7.5-9 in other 3 bands but 6.5 in writing which have left me mentally burnout, killed my confidence, motivation and left me financially shaken. I already started taking in IELTS tests while I was doing my degree. Since I was allowed to work 40 hours fortnight and IELTS tests fee ($340) was so expensive for that although the membership was $50 I could not afford to join since every cent counts for me, that is the reason I did not join AASW. I have been working in an aged care facility and would like to excel my career as aged care social worker. However, without the AASW membership, this seems only a dream. The situation has left me frustrated, stressed and failure. I have been passionate about social work but now losing passion and hope gradually.

      • Sunny says:

        Hi guys,
        I finished Master degree in social work in 2017 and since then I have given IELTS like 20 x times and every-time I score less in writing 6.5 .I have took coaching in Australia and even in India and wasted lots of money and put me in financial burden .This whole experience made me depressed , frustrated, stressed and loser.Why we social work students don’t have choice of PTE like other courses.This seems so unfair.
        And as Sulochana, I have also been working in an aged care facility and would like to excel my career as aged care social worker.But now I don’t think so its going to ever happen.
        feeling hopeless.

  6. Gerald White says:

    Although I believe that the concept of the A.A.S.W is an excellent idea and their Code of Ethics and Practice are great documents, I do feel that they are presently an inherently exclusive club.
    To give some background, I am a New Zealander and left N.Z. with a degree in Social Work which is accepted by the A.A.S.W however because my membership of the S.W.R.B expired when I left NZ I am ineligible for membership here, despite filling every other criteria.
    There appears to be an inflexibility in the A.A.S.W to adapt to people’s needs, to see what can be accomplished in partnership and to work towards a solution focused result. This is extremely unfortunate in that it excludes people, which seems to me to be in opposition to the concepts it sees as crucial to the profession, such as social justice, procedural fairness and respect for persons which are named or implied in their value framework.
    This very much saddens me and this exclusivity will, in the end, detract from the profession as it withdraws from partnership and collaboration, which are hallmarks of the social work profession. It appears that instead of growing by leaps and bounds, as would be expected, it’s growth will continue to be dominated by exclusion instead of advocacy, which should be the heartbeat of the profession.
    I find it incredible that some qualified trades can travel directly from NZ and get the equivalent jobs here without an issue and yet, due only to the A.A.S.W. and the S.W.R.B. having exclusivity built into it, people who are degree qualified as social workers in New Zealand may not qualify here in Australia or effectively have to compare each and every paper to the Australian equivalent which is incredibly labor intensive, when they already accept the qualification on their website!
    I look forward to the day when this oversight is recognized by the A.A.S.W and it is rectified. The day that happens I will happily join the A.A.S.W. and promote it, both to other social workers and the social work students I have mentored here in Australia.

  7. Ashiah Sharma says:

    Hi my fellow graduates,
    I am also stuck with 6.5 in Writing rest I got 8 each. I just want to ask AASW that does it make me any less of a Social Worker? We studied in Australian University in English language. Still need to proove our English. Ielts should not be the criteria. I amnsick of giving this exam and paying for it several times. Its already affecting my Mental Health. AASW states that their English requirement is matching standards to the other health profession. This is false as all other Health professional bodies accept other exams too. In contrast, AASW is stuck with IELTS Academic. Thats very unfair. All these 4 years of study is going in waste and AASW is somewhat responsible for it. I am very disappointed. Sorry if am a bit rude howevr, this is the reality.

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