Delight at University of Cumbria's forensic science recognition
A lecturing team is celebrating the news that their hard work has paid off, resulting in accreditation by the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences.
The university’s programme in forensic and investigative science has been running for 15 years, starting as a foundation degree, with top-up route to an honours degree, and now offering a full BSc honours with option of integrated foundation year. The society had already conferred recognition on the course because of the excellence of the theoretical provision, but as a result of the university’s recent £3.5million investment in STEM accommodation and equipment, the programme can, in addition, offer state-of-the-art practical experience to students, allowing them to work with the tools they will encounter in the real world.
This investment has enabled the university to grow its provision in the sciences. The implications are wide ranging, as the University of Cumbria can now apply for accreditation for the other science programmes it offers such as biology and bio-med.
One member of the team, Ashleigh Hunt, has lectured on the popular course for the past eight years. She says of the programme: “Forensic science has been the catalyst for the science development at the University of Cumbria and this is like the rubber stamp of approval.
“While the media have played a significant role in increasing the popularity of the course, arising from the many television programmes that feature crime scene investigation methods, it must be acknowledged that the reality is rather different and far from glamourous."
Ashleigh continues: “Employment opportunities are increasing due to the forensic science regulator putting into place standards that laboratories and CSIs have to meet within a certain timescale and that inevitably takes extra resource. However, whilst forensic means ‘applicable to law’, it is not just about processing crime scenes – any type of testing within a laboratory setting that is controlled by external regulators means that the science used is described as forensic, from medical tests through to environmental monitoring.”
A vital part of the students’ experience is the ‘major incident’ scenario that the team puts on once a year. It is an extensive undertaking that involves both staff and students from the course and across the wider university, acting as victims and witnesses, and also the police and paramedic service, who all come together to put on a realistic incident for the students to investigate.
Ashleigh comments: “It is a significant undertaking and planning starts as soon as the previous one finishes. We now have a rolling programme of three scenarios so that each student experiences three totally different cases. In year one, a student will enact the role of CSI, in their second year that of forensic scientist and in the final year they will take on the role of crime scene manager. As a result of the major incident component of the University of Cumbria’s course, the society has now embedded the need for such an exercise into the criteria for accreditation, intimating that all students should take part in one.
The student profile on the university's course is very varied, from mature students and those who’ve just completed A levels, to students who’ve come through the BTEC route and through widening participation. The course draws from the region but also from further afield nationally.
What then does gaining accreditation with the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences mean to the team? Ashleigh explains: “It proves the course is current and up-to-date – it meets the requirements of the society and the industry. It also means our students are acquiring the necessary theoretical and practical skills, enhancing their employability skills as a result. To put it simply, we know we’ve been doing things right and now it’s been recognised externally as well!”
Above: Ashleigh Hunt