All new police officers in England and Wales will need a degree level qualification from next year under plans to address changes in crime-fighting.
The move, introduced by the College of Policing, will give aspiring officers the opportunity to do a three-year paid “degree apprenticeship” where they will spend around 80% of their time on the front line.
Recruits will also have the option to study a self-funded policing degree at university or a funded postgraduate conversion course if they already have a degree in another subject.
The National Police Chief’s Council said the move will help to “modernise” the police force, but others have criticised it as “elitist”.
Alex Marshall, the College of Policing’s chief constable, said that the police force was not currently receiving the same investment in training as the military or the medical profession.
“It is very lopsided and we don’t do a lot of professional development training,” he said.
“The nature of police work is getting quite complex and it is quite contentious, and the public expectation is that you’ll be patrolling in my street and, by the way, you’ll be patrolling online.”
“We don’t think the investment has been made in policing in terms of professional development and this is one of the ways that we start to address that.”
Police chiefs say the changes will mean the public will receive the same level of service, regardless of their postcode.
At the moment, recruitment requirements differ between forces, with some asking for A Levels, while others demand on-the-job experience. Figures show that around a third (38%) of recruits currently have a degree-level qualification.
Funding for the degree apprenticeship is expected to come from a 0.5% apprenticeship levy on employers with a wage bill of more than £3 million.
According to the Guardian, apprentices will be paid between £21,000 and £23,000 a year.
Recruits who opt to study a policing degree at university, on the other hand, will have to pay for it themselves and apply to the force after graduation. The college say they are in talks with 12 universities about the new system.
Other changes to be introduced include national qualifications for officers following a promotion and the creation of a higher paid “advanced practitioner” position, hoped to entice people to remain in specialist areas such as cyber crime.
Under the plans, those applying for the position of assistant chief constable or above will also have to have a master’s degree.
Chief constable Giles York from the the National Police Chiefs’ Council said: “As crime and demand change, so must policing. Our workforce is our most valuable resource so police officers and staff need the right skills, knowledge and attributes to prevent harm and keep people safe in the 21st century.
“The changes announced today will help modernise the service and improve our ability to attract and retain really good people. It is also fair and right that police officers, as professionals, receive the recognition and accreditation they deserve, meaning the public will continue to get the high quality service they need.”
But there has been a backlash from members of the public, with some saying the changes will lead to the death of the “bobby on the beat”.
Former police officer Robert Feal-Martinez called the decision “bonkers”.
“The reason the police are out of touch is precisely because most senior ranks are the product of the Special Course where a selected few studied sociology, economics, and politics, spent just two years on the beat then went through rapid track promotion,” he wrote on Facebook.
“Grass roots policing needs a variety of skills most of which can’t be taught in a classroom.”
Norman Brennan, who was a London police officer for 31 years before retiring in 2009, also questioned the skills a degree could offer recruits.
Other people have compared the move to the decision that made it compulsory for nurses to have a degree in order to qualify. Jeremy Hunt recently backtracked on this rule, introducing an apprenticeship scheme that allows nurses to train on the wards.