The Social Work programme is threatened yet again

The Social Work programme is threatened yet again


By: Steven Arnfjord, Sara Abelsen, MarieKathrine Poppel, Peter Berliner, Martha Lund Olsen & Jeanette Sandy Shalmi – Department of Social Work, Ilisimatusarfik

It is not just about relocation, when Naalakkersuisut plans to examine whether the Social Work programme should be relocated to a college for social pedagogues - rather than at a university. It is about an outright shutdown - and then a new set-up. If carried out, the result will be an academic downgrade and aggravation, as well as a general pressure on the social workers as one of Greenland's most central professions. It is the complete opposite of what marginalized and vulnerable families need right now.

Naalakkersuisut has decided to examine whether the Social Work programme at Ilisimatusarfik is to be relocated to Ilulissat - and assigned to Perorsaanermik Ilinniarfik, the college for socialpedagogues. Here, the word relocate is consistent with the word restructuring, which in administration lingo means something different than in reality. Almost always, restructuring results in various cuts - and in this case the relocation means a shutdown - and then a new set-up.

If we look at KANUKOKA and the Danish National Council for Children as two examples, up until the very day of moving, politicians continued to talk about relocation. The reality turned out to be about shutdown - and then a new set-up. When it was decided to move KANUKOKA to Maniitsoq, all employees left the organization with their know-how and network (1). In Maniitsoq, today, you have to create a brand new organization from scratch (2). The Danish National Council for Children was to move from the capital to Central Jutland, and here all the employees also left their position. Today, the Danish National Council for Children is also to be created from scratch, and one expects a comprehensive academic backlog before the council is ready to perform tasks again (3).

You think you just relocate – but what is really happening is that you dismantle and destroy professional network, and remove important knowledge from partners and in areas which the organization is a part of.

The practice area of the social worker is located in the big cities and typically the largest in a country. This is where social workers are the most useful - where people live the closest, and where social challenges arise. As social workers, our work takes place where the interdisciplinary network is strong - both the more formal and the informal at NGO level.

Social work, social counseling and social research must be conducted in and associated with large urban environments. This is where social problems are reflected most clearly, are most explicit, and can be studied and researched to understand the methods necessary to strengthen the level of general welfare.

Considering the so-called "relocation", confusion must have arisen about the terms social pedagogue and social worker. The occupations are not so closely related that one might think. The social pedagogue’s professionalism is related to pedagogy and psychology, and typically in relation to institutional work. As a professional group, social pedagogues have a larger commonality with, for example, school teachers - as they share the same professionalism. For example, the Institute of Learning at Ilisimatusarfik has professors in pedagogy. As a contrast, professionalism for social workers is about: sociology, psychology and law. Social workers are multidisciplinary, while they focus on social issues throughout the Greenlandic society.

A shutdown of the Social Work programme at Ilisimatusarfik additionally means a great risk that the ongoing social research projects and activities effectively stop. The college curriculum talks about research affiliation and not research-based. Research affiliation is an imprecise term that does not describe how research is to be included in the general framework of teaching (4). At Ilisimatusarfik, research-based means that several of the lecturers are researchers themselves - and that they include their knowledge from research projects and scientific networks in their teaching. This means that the teaching itself is research-based with relevant and updated Greenlandic knowledge.

At Ilisimatusarfik, we conduct research about social issues. That is what the law says we should do - and we are doing our job.

The shutdown - and then a new set-up also raises a question about which status the Social Work programme is intended to have at the college. The college is currently working on an outdated legal framework from 1998, which does not mention undergraduate degrees (a bachelor's degree ensures that the education has a research-based content, and an international standard that allows students to pursue further education). They do, however, work on a pilot project from 2008 that we have not been able to find references to. A question of whether one can educate students at the undergraduate level is not relevant at Ilisimatusarfik’s Social Work programme. This is secured in the Act about Ilisimatusarfik. So, are the politicians to develop new laws? Is the Social Work programme to be downgraded and to be part of the same pilot project?

Downgrading social professionalism means downgrading welfare

Social workers work to ensure vulnerable citizens a positive future. It is as simple as that. A future where one can grow up with a secure safety net and be a contributing member of society. That is the task. It requires a high educational level to accomplish this task – also in the future. It has taken Greenland long time to realize the importance of the social workers’ profession in the construction of the welfare system.

Reading through our first two social commission reports reveal that it was not until the early 1990s that they realized the importance of well-trained social workers. This is so important, and we must stick to it. We are still fighting for social workers to gain a competitive salary and to have good working conditions, so that our public servants do their best and do not flee from government jobs. It can be done with the proper recognition of the profession's role in society.

The proposal to shut down the programme at Ilisimatusarfik is basically a lack of recognition. A downgrading of social professionalism will impact the welfare work for a long time into the future. How is it a considered proposal in these years?

In closing

Shutdown means phasing out education and research. Is this what Naalakkersuisut want with all the major challenges we have in the social policy area - the need to create unrest around a central educational programme, which is designed to educate social workers who deal with these very same issues?

We suggest that you let us work in peace in continuing to educate skilled Greenlandic social workers, and to do research on Greenlandic social issues - and then use the energy to create a modern social legislation, and encourage municipalities to formulate social policy strategies that meet socially vulnerable citizens in a professional and dignified manner.



1.  Mølgaard N. Ingen vil flytte med til Maniitsoq. Sermitsiaq. 2016

2.  Søndergaard NK. Kanukoka-formand dropper sit projekt. Sermitsiaq. 2016

3.  Gammeltoft-Pedersen T, Siggaard PF. Udflytning: Det tager år før Børnerådet har fuld styrke igen. 2016

4. Harrild TB. Forskningstilknytning på de mellemlange videregående uddannelser. Nyhedsbrevet Evaluering. 2006

Communication office

Easily contact our communication office

Read more


Public events at University of Greenland

Read more

In the press

University of Greenland mentioned in the press and media

Read more