We last reviewed undergraduate course provision in November 2008. Since that time, 20 HE institutions have introduced new forensic courses, and 10 institutions that offered forensic courses at that time have withdrawn them. There are currently (January 2010) 76 HE institutions offering courses with "forensic" content. Links to these institutions are provided in the table to the right. There are just over 450 courses with a "forensic" content.
A full listing of these courses is available at the Universities and Colleges Applications Service (UCAS) web site (http://www.ucas.ac.uk). In 1993, there were three undergraduate courses providing training in the forensic sciences offered by three universities in the UK. Two of these were chemistry-
If you are interested in a career as a forensic scientist (practitioner) and studying forensic science at university in the UK, there are four key questions to ask.
Do I Need to Study Forensic Science at University?
Whilst you might be interested in studying forensic science at university, it is not necessary to have studied this subject to work within the Forensic Science Service (FSS), Police Scientific Support Laboratories (SSL) or in Police Scenes of Crime (SOC) -
It is, however, absolutely essential that you have studied a core science for forensic science posts in the FSS. For posts in Police SSL and for SOC work, scientific training is becoming increasingly desirable. By way of example, a graduate from a university chemistry course will have spent almost all of their time studying core chemistry, and because of their subject knowledge could be ideally suited to the forensic profession despite not having studied "forensic" at university.
Is the Course Suitable and Accredited?
The breadth and depth of training in forensic science in UK university courses differs enormously. Indeed a good many "forensic" courses do not have even the necessary forensic laboratory facilities to support this type of training. It is important, therefore, that you obtain comprehensive details about the forensic scope and content and support facilities of these courses and that you determine whether these will provide you with the right kind of training to get you the job you eventually want. You should also check to see if the course requires accreditation, and if so whether it has received accreditation or is seeking to be accredited (see Accreditation Box).
What do the Entry Requirements and Subject for Entry Reveal?
Not all courses with the word "forensic" in the title require the applicant to have studied sciences at Advanced (or equivalent) level. Given that a key requirement for successful entry into the professional forensic sector is a scientific background, you should consider very carefully whether courses that require no or little scientific learning and/or ability will enable you to develop the necessary competences if you are seeking a career in this sector.
What About Post Graduate Training?
It is possible to acquire a good grasp of forensic issues and put previously learned core science to use in a forensic context by pursuing a one year post graduate masters course in forensic science after obtaining your first degree. This is the ideal way to develop your career aspirations towards the forensic profession.
The forensic profession is a very diverse discipline, and if applicants to the profession are to be fit for purpose, it is vital they have received training to a high level appropriate to their discipline.
Soon after the explosion in undergraduate course provision occurred, serious concern was expressed within the profession about both the quality and appropriateness of training in the forensic sciences offered by the HE sector. To address the issues, the Forensic Science Society trialled a voluntary programme of accreditation encouraging HE institutions to meet certain minimum standards. From 2004, this process of accreditation saw the involvement of other quality standards stakeholders leading to the development of the Forensic Science Skillsmark endorsed by the Forensic Science Occupational Committee. Today, all UK HE courses with a forensic content are required* to meet the minimum standards laid down in the National Occupational Standard if the course is to be accredited and given "Skillsmark" status.
* Not all courses will need to seek Skillsmark accreditation. For example, a single honours chemistry course (recognised / accredited by the Royal Society of Chemistry) is a suitable vehicle for graduate employment into the forensic profession.