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International Social Work: Linkage between Social Work Education and Practice in Scotland and Nigeria

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 4486 words Published: 18th May 2020

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International Social Work: Linkage between social work education and practice in Scotland and Nigeria

Social work as a profession has become internationally recognized after the emergence of the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW), International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and International Council for Social Welfare (ICSW) with exchanges of curricula, staff, students and transfer of practices across borders (Dominelli, L. 2014). This impeccable transfers and adaptations of practices have had outstanding results globally with a notable example being the creation of the Hull House for poor people in Chicago by Jane Addams and the use of theories by social work scholars in teaching students as well as in social work practice.

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Although these formal cross-country relationships have given platforms for students to study social work in different countries, there could be seen to have come with its problems. As highlighted by Warren (1939), it is of importance to apply casework techniques to issues of people whose social changes require agreeable activity in at least two countries. If an effort to promote international social work is to succeed, they must be included in an unequivocal foundation of information that elucidates this aspect of social work awareness.

This literature is a first attempt to review existing information on international social work with thoroughness applied in distinguishing what is known, and what isn’t, about this subject. More explicitly, this literature has tried to examine existing articles and books on international social work and linking it to how important it is to explore and develop greater understanding and connections of how social work is taught in schools and also practiced in other countries. Also, the review will focus on – social work students and lecturers in the University of Dundee and the University of Nigeria – and analyzed literature relating to their ability to take part in the survey to understand the connections between social work education and practice in Scotland and Nigeria.

Literature Review

Definitions of international social work, its global agenda and global standards for social work education, support the possibility that every social worker or social work educator ought to participate in activities planned for influencing a broader view and understanding in different ways that other countries practice social work in other to inculcate a curriculum that takes into account a wider range of cultures to ensure that individual human rights are upheld.

To begin with, I sought to understand the term “international social work“. From this, I found different writings by different authors on the meaning of this term. An outstanding definition found was by Healy, L M. (2008) in her book, “International Social Work: Professional Action in an Interdependent Action”. This book highlighted the different debates surrounding the definition of the term “international social work” in over 70 years. However, the author captures her definition well as “international professional action and the capacity for international action by the social work profession and its members”. Further to this, Healy in her book outlined four dimensions for a successful international action: internationally related domestic practice and advocacy, professional exchange, international practice, and international policy development and advocacy.

She explained the first dimension as social work competence in internationally related parts of domestic social work practice and expert advocacy. This is because social workers are progressively approached to manage issues that have a universal measurement, implying that at least two countries are engaged in some way in the situation or policy issue. The second dimension is a professional exchange where there is the ability to exchange social work data and experiences globally and to utilize the learning and experience to improve social work practice and social welfare approach in respective countries. This incorporates a scope of activities, for example, perusing remote periodicals and books in one’s field, comparing with experts in different nations or facilitating guests, taking an interest in expert between change at universal gatherings, and distinguishing and adjusting social welfare developments in different countries to one’s setting. The author shows that the capacity to transfer international human service advancements to one’s very own setting initially requiring the learning of social welfare improvements in different countries.

The third dimension she proposed was International Practice. She explained this as the preparation of some professional social workers to contribute straightforwardly to international development work through employment or humanitarian effort in international development agencies. Finally, she explains the last dimension as International policy development and advocacy. Here, she wrote that, the capacity of the social work profession as a “worldwide movement to formulate and promulgate positions on significant social issues and make a contribution to the solution of important global problems related to its sphere of expertise:

Although this seems to be a concrete definition to the term, it seemed to lack the necessary components that could be linked to the research topic, International Social Work: Linkage between social education and practice in Scotland and Nigeria. Further researching, I found the understanding given by Cox and Pawar (2006) on international social work as relative to the research. The authors explained international social work as

“…..the advancement of social work education and practice comprehensively and locally, to build a genuinely incorporated international profession that reflects social work’s ability to react suitably and effectively, in education and practice terms, to the different worldwide difficulties that are significantly affecting the prosperity of huge areas of the total populace. This worldwide and neighborhood advancement of social work education and practice depends on coordinated points of view approach that integrates worldwide, human rights, natural, and social improvement viewpoints of global circumstances and reactions to them”.

With this definition, the need to understand international social work from an academic perspective seemed feasible. This could be seen as the pathway in rediscovering how to assist each other (countries) as migration seems to have now become a part of our everyday culture. Furthermore, the present problems faced by countries cannot be solved independently but collectively. For example, probably a decade ago, Scotland was a pre-dominated country with the mass being ‘white’. This meant that social workers at that time could understand the culture and how to work with their service users. However, in the present state, there are Asians, Africans and a mass number of different continents resident here. This means the issues social workers will be facing now would be very complex and dynamic as the culture of the service users has to be taken into view. The understanding of service users’ culture can be very fundamental in the helping process of the individual’s problem. Additionally, cross-cultural relationships have enabled students from different parts of the world to study social work in Scotland. Although this of high importance, it is essential to understand what the lessons learned from Scotland would mean for the students in their respective country. All these and many other reasons meant there was the need to explore and develop greater understanding and connections between social work education and practice in Scotland and Nigeria. 

In a research article called “Dilemmas of international social work: paradoxical processes in indigenization, universalism, and imperialism” by Gray, M. (2005), the author explained that the cross-cultural characteristics of social work according to her, raises the specter of westernization and imperialism in its practices. The development of the former has led to three thronged dilemmas arising – indigenization, universalism, and imperialism. In this paper, the author attempted to explore the debate on the surrounding dilemmas and promote a better understanding of the divergent views on these dilemmas.

As proposed by the researcher, indigenization borders around culture. It can be viewed as cross-cultural practices where theories, values, and philosophy are influenced by a local factor (Osei-Hwedie, 2001; Allegritti & Gray,2003; Gray & Allegritti, 2002). The argument remains that social work is context-bound but may vary in various regions and history. On the other hand, universalization allows elements to transcend national boundaries such that there are commonalities in practice and theories across divergent context (Gray and Fook, 2004). They further opined that universalization is a ground-up collaboration process that can be used to fight a common cause. Imperialization, however, relates to finding a balance between importing social work knowledge/methods and indigenous structures for organizing social work principles (Tsang and Yang, 2001). Following the review of literature on understanding the central role played by culture in the dilemmas debate, the author resolves that the way culture is viewed affects the interpretation of universalizing trend in social work. Therefore, this study assumes the standpoint that international social work is the development of practices that are relevant in a local context, intending to change local unjust practices and not westernization. Also, international social work is the use of universal trends as guides to create diversity across regions. It can be viewed can be a flexible entity by being open to new forms of social works based on local problems. The engagement of local social work in the international sphere boosts the recognition of local agendas. The study concludes that for the uptake of international social work especially in the Chinese context, there is the need to modify the expert knowledge from professional education and training. This approach implies that cultural consideration enables the indigenization of social work yet retaining universalization while avoiding imperialism.

From the above, the need for universalization was critical in the introduction of the project as this takes into account the importance in collaborating with lecturers and students in the University of Nigeria and those in the University of Dundee. This joint effort in the long haul seeks to address a mirage of problems in social work education and practice in both countries. As Gray, M. (2005) highlighted, the key step in understanding both concepts is to factor in culture as this can give rise to a great outcome in the research.

Similarly, Dominelli, L. (2014) in her article, “Internationalising professional practices: the place of social work in the international arena” emphasizes that, based on historical antecedents, social work has been active in the international sphere. Practices and strategies that link the local with the global can be referred to as internalization. However, the outcomes of internationalization can either be beneficial or exploitative depending on the values of the institution practicing it (Callan 1998; Dominelli, 2000; Knight, 1997, Lyons et al.,2006). Researchers opine internationalization as dynamic and constantly evolving by creating new cultural practices which tend to undermine the local culture (Knight and de With,1995, Gray, 2005; Knight, 1997; Yang, 2002). Therefore, to examine international practices, this article explores partnership in delivering aid in Sri Lanka 2004 Tsunami. The research compares the Institutional model (IM) and Professional model (PM) involving social work students with general aid donors. Both models were chosen because external donors claim to follow empowering services that involve the locals in decision-making. The research used an ethnographic case study approach to answer the question, “are some models of humanitarian aid better than others?”. The data collected across 12 villages was analyzed using the Nvivo software.

The data revealed advantages and disadvantages in the aid delivery process which corroborates and challenges Hancock’s (1991) assertion. Although the aid was welcomed by the locals, the study observed inequalities in distribution when done by external aid-Furthermore, the IP and PM donors were considered better integrated into village life and viewed more positively than others. Based on the findings, the researchers observed that general external aid was more problematic than that delivered by the PM and IM. The latter was described to be long term and inclusive of the local people and organization. To help address the place of social work in the international arena, the article concludes that integration of local empowering partnerships such as listening to women and children, capacity building, practicing of equality values should be done to maximize the benefits of internationalization.

Dominelli, L. (2014)’s article showed that it was highly beneficial to the University of Dundee researchers to have included a lecturer from the University of Nigeria and an African post-graduate student in the University of Dundee in the layout of the survey and the research as it helps in administering questionnaires to students in both universities easier as each countries cultural practices have been taken account and this makes it easier for students from either university to answer as it is been administered to them by a local.

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Additionally, in another study by Jones N. D and Truell G. R(2012) on “The global agenda for social work and social development: a place to link together and be effective in a globalized world”, the authors highlighted the key findings from the search for new global responses resulting from new global challenges in human conditions which involves effectively building the connections between the global trends and realities and local community responses (Pettifor 2004; Lyons, Manion et al. 2006; Payne and Askeland 2008; Healy and Link 2011).  The core themes identified by the 3,000 participants in Hong Kong were subject to extensive, global debate and feedback, in particular, widespread debates in schools of social work and social work agencies on World Social Work Day 2011.  The responses broadly endorsed the four priority areas, which are: social and economic inequalities within countries and between regions, dignity, and worth of the person, environmental sustainability and importance of the human relationship.

Recognizing these realities, the representatives formulated key objectives related to each of the four key themes of the Agenda which had been agreed in Hong Kong.  Each theme targeted commitments to three areas:  joint activities on presenting a social work and social development perspective in our work at the United Nations and other international agencies, recognition of the importance of strong and resilient communities to achieve stable well-being and the importance of the role of social work and social development practitioners in facilitating healthy and strong communities.  The third set of commitments related to the internal activities of our organizations, directed towards ensuring that policies and standards are consistent with addressing the root causes of poverty and oppression and promoting sustainable social environments which make a reality of respect for human rights and dignity.  Finally, the platform recognizes the significance of education and training and the working environment for effective and ethical social work practice and includes commitments to coordinate research and activity to improve these elements.

The Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development: Commitment to Action was formally released in the week of World Social Work Day and UN Social Work Day in March 2012 (International Federation of Social Workers, International Association of Schools of Social Work et al. 2012). The three organizations; IASSW, IFSW, ICSW, have agreed on an implementation strategy, including a commitment to promote a global network of regional centers to support the implementation of the agenda and to research the work environments which promote positive outcomes in social work and social development.

As the most school of social works, academicians and social workers are mostly members of either the IASSW, IFSW, and ICSW, the authors highlighted the commitments from the Global Agenda in Hong Kong. Linking these commitments to social work education and practice in terms of international social work in Scotland and Nigeria, it shows how vital it is for an advancement in the global network of regional centers to help usage of the plan; “The Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development: Commitment to Action” and to inquire about the workplaces which advance positive results in social work and social improvement (International Federation of Social Workers, International Association of Schools of Social Work et al. 2012).

Furthermore, in a recently published article by Harris, J. et al., (2015), the authors drew critical attention to the need to understand international knowledge transfer in social work. The meaning drawn from their work suggests that international knowledge transfer is the transfer of knowledge from one country to the other in a global perspective. From this, the authors came to propose the term, ‘travelling knowledge’ which assumes that “evidence from one culture can be applied in another despite minor local differences (Evans & Hardy, 2010, p. 53) with a problem in this kind of approach being the need for a more effective knowledge mobilization (Cooper & Levin, 2010, p. 351). 

However, the authors in the study showed dissatisfaction with the term ‘knowledge transfer’ and hence develop a framework after exploring the concept of neo-institution which is understood as the interrelationship between organizations within an institutional field. Within this perspective, they drew on two neo-institutionalist contributions to examine international traveling knowledge: first, transfer mechanisms in the work of Sahlin-Andersson and Engwall (2002) and, secondly, the receiving context, by considering DiMaggio and Powell’s concept of isomorphism (1991).

The study proposed a framework which has 9 elements, narratives, routes, barriers, boundaries, filters, providers, shape, roots and issues/topics built upon the work of  Sahlin-Andersson and Engwall (2002). The authors again upon critical review of the above elements, proposed that it was essential for one to consider the issue of power when seeking to understand international traveling knowledge or even practice it. This, according to them is because, knowledge is mostly found in “uneven allocations of power across local, regional and….”

Another facet of international social work is examined by Healy L. M. and Wairie G. G (2014) in the article, “Educating for the Global Agenda: internationally relevant conceptual frameworks and knowledge for social work education” which examines the limit of social work instructive projects to get ready alumni to add to the human, social and natural difficulties illustrated in the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development. The instructive division must assume a lead job through preparing and investigate. Utilizing models from Kenya and the United States, the authors contend more educational program accentuation on such territories as social and monetary improvement, human rights, and social incorporation is required.

According to the authors, creating an educational plan to address human rights is as yet a work in advancement and numerous social work educators are uncertain of how to continue. However, for educating to be successful and capability accomplished, the educational program needs to attach human rights to issues in students’ very own country and practice. The authors highlighted an example that, US educators should initially challenge broadly held observations that the US is an innovator in human rights. Students also need to look at the US as a hesitant member in the global human rights system, through its inability to sanction basic bargains in the zones of monetary and social rights that are of most enthusiasm to social work. Maybe more critically, educational program should address current human rights issues in the US, for example, treatment of women in the welfare framework, children in the legal and remedial systems, proceeding with issues with LGBT and minority group rights, racial profiling, jail conditions, child labour in farming, racial inclination in the childcare system, and new dangers to insurance of immigrant women from viciousness (Hertel and Libal, 2011; Human Rights Watch, 2012).

The article highlighted how important it is for social work institutions with students from a different culture to be mindful of the approach used in teaching. Comparing the authors’ context to the research topic, it can be seen that Scotland might be highly viewed as important and a leader in human rights especially as certain practices like LGBT is frowned upon in Nigeria. Students seeking education from Scotland would view the materials and the mode of teaching as the best and hence might never challenge certain practices even when it infringes on their rights. In as much as Nigeria is a democratic country, people are not expected to address or point a charging finger at their political establishment which is to a great extent in charge of administration and general organization of the country. As most of the universities in Nigeria are state-owned, this has had a negative effect on students that graduate from these universities as one is mostly taught not to question authority which often ends up raising a generation of graduates who only study to pass the university but sometimes not equipped for addressing matters that influence the general people.

There is, therefore, a serious need to take into account the need for human rights in essentially every course inside the social work program. This is very fundamental as social work practice is still at its beginning stage in Nigeria. As social work is not yet really recognized in Nigeria, the mass number of students that complete the course find themselves not being able to find a job, unlike Scotland where it is highly recognized. The mode of teaching social work in Nigeria is also different compared to Scotland. All these, when put into consideration shows how it might be difficult for a student coming from Nigeria to study in Scotland have a smooth sailing academic course. However, students mostly persevere and sail through and after the course, go back to their respective countries mostly due to visa issues to a place where the social work is not seen of importance compared to other courses like law, medicine, business, and others. This leaves Scotland with less social workers who have attained the hallmark to be able to help alleviate the issues people face here. If social work universities are to accept students from Nigeria for instance to study social work, the authors propose that social work educators should bring the Global Agenda into the classroom and guarantee that all students read the report. The themes identified in the Agenda ought to be focal in social work education and work attempted to tissue them out with related practice abilities.

In conclusion, the six publications incorporated into this review are demonstrative of a progressing global talk concerning international social work that started years ago and has seen noteworthy development from that point forward. The propelling of this collection of work has been an exertion for social work researchers to draw on their personal experiences and involvement in international social work to suggest the best practice and recommendations in practicing international social work.  This talk has incorporated work relating to social work practice in one country been used to compare/taught in another country or used in solving a service user’s problem and thus reflects a developing accord that international social work is a type of practice that ought to be adopted by every social worker and not just by a particular group of social workers. It also ought to be subsequently imbued into all social work programs.


  • Cox, D., & Pawar, M. (2006). International social work: Issues, strategies and programs. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Dominelli, L. (2014) ‘Internationalising professional practices: the place of social work in the international arena’, International Social Work, 57:3, 258-267.

  • Gray, M (2005) Dilemmas of international social work: paradoxical processes in indigenisation, universalism and imperialism. International Journal of Social Welfare. 14:3. 231-238.
  • Harris, J., Borodkina, O., Brodtkorb, E., Evans, T., Kessl, F., Schnurr, S. and Slettebo, T. (2015) ‘International Travelling Knowledge in Social Work: an analytical framework’, European Journal of Social Work, 18:4, 481-494.
  • Healy, L. M. (2008) International Social Work: Professional Action in an Interdependent World, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Healy, L. M. and Wairie, G. G. (2014) ‘Educating for the Global Agenda: internationally relevant conceptual frameworks and knowledge for social work education’, International Social Work, 57:3, 235-247.
  • Jones, D and Truell, R. (2012) The global agenda for social work and social development: a place to link together and be effective in a globalized world. International Social Work. 55:4,
  • Warren, G. (1939). International social work. In R. Kurtz (Ed.), Social work yearbook(pp.192–196).  New York: Russell Sage Foundation.


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