Visiting Professor develops social work link with Germany

Published 19 May 2010

angelikaAngelika Henschel, the author of a book comparing Australian and German social work practices in dealing with domestic violence, has spent the past two months working with lecturers and students in the University of New England’s ground-breaking new social work degree program.

Professor Henschel (pictured here), from the Institute of Social Work at Lüneburg University in Germany, is an international authority on social work practices in relation to domestic violence, and her book – published in 2003 and subtitled “Learning from Down Under” – focuses on that issue.

“There are many similarities between Australia and Germany in regard to domestic violence,” Professor Henschel said. “In both our countries, every third woman between the ages of 16 and 85 has experienced domestic violence at least once, and there are still a lot of people who think it’s not such an important problem. We’ve come a long way since the first women’s refuges were set up in the 1970s, but it’s an ongoing process.”

Professor Henschel visited Armidale in February last year and delivered some of the first lectures to the inaugural intake of students in UNE’s Bachelor of Social Work degree program. She said she was impressed by the application of UNE’s expertise in online learning to delivering the program at a distance, by the organisation of the intensive residential schools for distance-education students, and by the focus on problem-based learning.

“In Germany, online learning is not usual,” she said. “Most of our students study on campus. We’re really just starting to look at online learning, and I’ll be taking a few of your good ideas back to my university.”

During her current visit to UNE, Professor Henschel has been teaching at residential schools. “I like the way the Bachelor of Social Work course – with its intensive schools – has been developed,” she said. “Problem-based learning is well developed here: with its focus on group work – demanding the participation of the students – it’s a very effective way of teaching adults.”

Professor Henschel and her UNE colleagues have also been working with Tamworth Regional Council and local service providers on a project to address social problems in the Tamworth suburb of Coledale. “They’re planning a new youth centre there,” she said, “and we’d like to do some project development and evaluation for it. Maybe we could get UNE students involved through work-experience placements; there might even be opportunities for my students from Germany.”

“It could be a good opportunity to get students from UNE and Lüneburg University together,” she added, explaining that the two universities had signed a Letter of Intent to facilitate academic and student exchanges.

Now near the end of her current visit to UNE, she hopes to keep coming back. “It’s been a good experience – such a warm welcome to me as a stranger, and such support from my colleagues,” she said. “I think they really care about people.”