“A fresh future is taking shape, with urban areas around the world becoming not just the dominant form of habitat for humankind, but also the engine-rooms of human development as a whole” (UN Habitat 2012)
As more than 50% of us live in urban areas—a number that will increase up to as many as 75% by 2050—urbanization has far-reaching consequences for the majority of the European population. As professionals, social workers deal with social problems, and, most often, these problems unfold in urban spaces. As social spaces, urban areas are both interesting and important, because they echo local and global social relations, developments, problems, and solutions.
Historically, disciplines such as social work and urban sociology have been closely associated. However, during the last decades, casework has become a dominant social work paradigm in many European countries. As a response to this development, four Erasmus partners (University College Metropol, Copenhagen; Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Amsterdam; Artevelde University College, Ghent; and Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Helsinki) in 2015 began to develop a 30 ECTS joint study program called Social Work in Urban Areas (SWUA). The objective of our partnership is to contribute to the creation of a new paradigm for urban social work practice through education. In the future, we will need social workers (and other welfare professionals) who are competent in co-creating a sustainable and socially just life in cities. Developing such competences calls for a more transdisciplinary approach to social work education: future practitioners of social work in urban areas need to be able to work alongside urban planners, healthcare practitioners, business developers, sociologists etc. The SWUA program supports the education of social workers who are, on the one hand, competent to think critically about the role of social work in the context of ‘the urban age’ (Williams 2016), and, on the other hand, actively participating in the development of innovative and sustainable community interventions.
In the Fall/Winter semester of 2017, the University College Metropol, Copenhagen, successfully hosted the program for the first time bringing together students and teachers from eight different European countries, learning in an international/European context about global issues.
The overall objectives of our strategic partnership are to develop a program to train educators and partners for work in urban areas and to create an online learning platform to support the distribution of the knowledge, experience, and expertise that are the outcomes of this transnational study program and strategic partnership.
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