In the last twenty years, several studies have confirmed social work students’ reluctance to embrace research courses. In a recent Swiss study, first year Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) students’ interest in research courses was predicted by their research orientation (including the perceived importance and the attributed usefulness of research for practice, and the perceived unbiased nature of research), and fear of research courses. The present study aimed to explore whether these findings are specific to the local professional and educational context. We compared levels of interest in research courses, and predictors for this among students entering BSW programs in Switzerland and Australia.
We hypothesized that students entering a BSW program in Australia show higher levels of interest in research courses, have a stronger research orientation, and report lower levels of fear, than students entering a BSW program in Switzerland. Further, we hypothesized that a) interest in research courses is predicted by students’ fear of research courses and research orientation, b) research orientation is determined by fear of research courses, and c) fear is predicted by general self-efficacy and statistic anxiety.
In 2017 and 2018, we invited students entering BSW programs in an Australian and a Swiss university to complete an anonymous self-administered online questionnaire prior to the commencement of their program. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, multivariate analyses and structural equation modelling. The sample included 165 Australian and 245 Swiss students (N=410), 318 (78%) female and 92 (22%) male, aged 17–58 (Mdn=22), with various entry qualifications, who were studying either full time or part time.
Students entering the Australian BSW program showed significantly lower levels of interest (p=0.024), had a stronger research orientation (p=0.024, p≤0.001, p≤0.001), and reported higher levels of fear (p≤0.001) than those entering the program in Switzerland. In both groups, interest in research courses was predicted by students’ fear of research courses (β=-0.30 vs. β=–0.39) and their research orientation (β=0.39 vs. β=0.38). Fear of research courses was predicted by general self-efficacy (β=-0.31 vs β=–0.32) and statistics anxiety (β=0.18 vs β=0.23). In both groups, fear of research courses did not determine research orientation. Among Australian students, age predicted the levels of fear and interest. Among Swiss students, gender predicted the reported levels of fear while age predicted research orientation, and a specific type of entry qualification co-determined their levels of interest (Australian model: GFI=0.951, AGFI=0.902, SRMR=0.084, RMSEA=0.068, adj. R2=0.24; Swiss model: GFI=0.968, AGFI=0.941, SRMR=0.068, RMSEA=0.035, adj. R2=0.32).
Students entering a BSW program in Australia reported a stronger research orientation than students in Switzerland did. This could be an expression of the longer tradition of social work education at university level and subsequently, a stronger commitment to evidence-informed practice in Australia. However, Australian students showed lower levels of interest in and higher levels of fear of research courses than Swiss students. Regardless of the context, the predictors of research interest were the same in both groups.