News Focus: physio education is flourishing

More UK education establishments than ever are offering physio courses. Sally Gosling explains the CSP’s role in ensuring quality.


The move away from NHS funding for universities and students in England has played a strong part in the expansion of physiotherapy education in recent years. However, this has not been the only catalyst for growth, with developments occurring across the UK. 

The combined effect is an increased number of education providers, more student places, more diverse entry routes to the profession, and further expansion to come.  In 2018/19, 43 universities will offer entry routes into the profession, a rise of 23 per cent since 2015/16 and a 27 per cent increase in the number of programmes. The CSP is advising additional higher educational institutes (HEIs) on their physiotherapy education plans.

With a combination of funding changes, expanded provision, and the removal of the cap on student numbers across all subjects in England from 2015, UK physiotherapy student places rose by 34 per cent between 2015/16 and 2018/19.

Physiotherapy continues to be an attractive discipline for universities and individuals. It recruits high-calibre applicants and has very low student drop-out rates. In turn, students secure graduate-level jobs as they qualify and register. Physiotherapy education is also dependent on strong links with local employers. 

Higher funding 

The move away from NHS funding has also meant that HEIs in England now receive higher funding for physiotherapy degrees: students’ tuition fees (currently set at £9,250) are supplemented by a public grant – recognition that physiotherapy is a higher-cost subject to deliver.

The CSP plays a strong role in supporting and advising on new educational developments. It ensures that provision is responsive to changing population, patient, service and workforce needs; is preparing students for their future physiotherapy career; and is sustained by sufficient practice-based learning capacity for students to gain the depth, breadth, and quality of experience required for effective practice.

The society’s approach is focused on upholding quality, while encouraging innovation and addressing shortfalls in physiotherapy workforce supply.  

CSP officers and members appointed as education representatives’ advice on developing programmes that meet the high standards required by the profession – as defined by both the CSP and the regulator, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). 

All new provision has so far sought and secured CSP accreditation. While HCPC approval is a requirement for programmes to run, CSP accreditation provides an additional badge of quality, enhancing HEIs’ marketing to prospective students, and draws new teams into the CSP-supported community of physiotherapy educators across the UK.   

Quality learning

The CSP ensures new programmes prepare students for the changing nature of practice and are underpinned by high quality, practice-based learning – crucially without this encroaching on placements already used by neighbouring HEIs. The cornerstone of CSP accreditation is that all students must undertake a minimum of 1,000 hours of practice-based learning.  

The changing funding context in England, and evidence of workforce demands across the UK, have played a role in the increase in physiotherapy student numbers. Increases are occurring through existing providers expanding the size of their student cohorts and creating additional programmes, as well as additional universities moving into physiotherapy education.

Country-specific workforce planning processes are informing these developments. Physiotherapy workforce shortages and increased workforce demand have been identified. The fact that physiotherapists offer a solution to changing population, patient, and service delivery needs is increasingly recognised. 

Entry routes into the profession are also more diverse than ever. It is now possible to qualify as a physiotherapist via a BSc (honours) degree, a four-year integrated master’s degree, a two-year master’s degree (after a first degree in a related subject) or a professional doctorate. 

Apprentice schemes

The CSP ensures that increasing diversity does not compromise standards. Encouraging innovation in education design and delivery, and diversity in qualifying awards, the society ensures all programmes fulfil their professional requirements for accreditation and reflect well on the profession. This is alongside HEIs ensuring that provision upholds high academic standards and the HCPC ensuring that programmes fulfil its threshold standards for registration as a physiotherapist in the UK.   

On the horizon, physiotherapist degree apprenticeships will enable students to start out as physiotherapy support workers while learning and preparing for qualification and registration. The qualification underpinning this route can be either a BSc (honours) or an MSc in physiotherapy. 

This new route will go live in England once assessment and funding issues are approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships. There is also the potential for degree or graduate apprenticeships to be developed elsewhere in the UK.

This is an exciting time for physiotherapy education. Expanding student numbers are helping to meet workforce shortages, while developments are demonstrating physiotherapy’s value as a workforce solution.  All this at a time when workforce supply is reducing in other professions and physiotherapists have new opportunities, including as first contact practitioners in primary care. 

  • Sally Gosling is the CSP’s assistant director of practice and development.

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