Bri­tish School of Os­teopa­thy wins univer­sity col­lege sta­tus

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - John.mor­gan@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

The Bri­tish School of Os­teopa­thy has won univer­sity col­lege ti­tle, mean­ing that a com­ple­men­tary medicine in­sti­tu­tion could be on the road to­wards full univer­sity sta­tus.

Univer­sity col­lege ti­tle, awarded by the Privy Coun­cil on the ad­vice of the Depart­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion and the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Fund­ing Coun­cil for Eng­land, is usu­ally seen as a step to­wards full univer­sity sta­tus. One pro­fes­sor warned that if the BSO were to achieve this, it would “make a mock­ery of academia and ev­i­dence­based health­care”.

The DfE, and be­fore that the Depart­ment for Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Skills, has pur­sued a more lib­eral ap­proach to the in­tro­duc­tion of new providers to the English sec­tor un­der the Con­ser­va­tive and coali­tion gov­ern­ments.

The BSO, a Lon­don-based non­profit, char­i­ta­ble in­sti­tu­tion, se­cured de­gree-award­ing pow­ers and ac­cess to He­fce pub­lic teach­ing and re­search fund­ing in De­cem­ber 2015. The in­sti­tu­tion will be known, from Septem­ber, as the Univer­sity Col­lege of Os­teopa­thy.

Bournemouth’s An­glo-Euro­pean Col­lege of Chi­ro­prac­tic was granted de­gree-award­ing pow­ers in July 2016.

Edzard Ernst, emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of com­ple­men­tary medicine at the Univer­sity of Ex­eter, said that these were wor­ry­ing de­ci­sions.

“Os­teopa­thy is based on im­plau­si­ble as­sump­tions, and there is no good ev­i­dence for its ef­fec­tive­ness. Yet os­teopaths reg­u­larly make all sorts of ther­a­peu­tic claims,” he said. “These facts make the BSO not a can­di­date for be­com­ing a univer­sity; on the con­trary, such a move would sig­nif­i­cantly down­grade the cred­i­bil­ity of UK uni­ver­si­ties and make a mock­ery of academia and ev­i­dence­based health­care.”

The NHS Choices web­site states that there is “good ev­i­dence that os­teopa­thy is ef­fec­tive in treat­ing per­sis­tent lower back pain” and says that the Na­tional In­sti­tute for Health and Care Ex­cel­lence rec­om­mends it as a treat­ment for this con­di­tion. But there is “cur­rently no good ev­i­dence that os­teopa­thy is ef­fec­tive as a treat­ment for health con­di­tions un­re­lated to the mus­cu­loskele­tal sys­tem (bones and mus­cles)”, NHS Choices adds.

Charles Hunt, the BSO prin­ci­pal, said that the in­sti­tu­tion at present had no plans to grow its stu­dent num­bers to the thresh­old re­quired for full univer­sity ti­tle, cur­rently 1,000 full-time equiv­a­lent higher ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents.

But he added that the in­sti­tu­tion recog­nised that “changes in the [Higher Ed­u­ca­tion and Re­search Act] about be­com­ing a univer­sity might take those num­bers out” of

the univer­sity ti­tle process, which will come un­der the con­trol of the new Of­fice for Stu­dents in Eng­land.

Mr Hunt said that the award of univer­sity col­lege ti­tle “recog­nises the qual­ity of our or­gan­i­sa­tion” in its 100th year and was “an im­por­tant step for the pro­fes­sion”. The BSO has “had to go through all the hoops that any other in­sti­tu­tion has had to go through to demon­strate qual­ity and re­flec­tive­ness in our in­sti­tu­tion [and] good gov­er­nance”, which was rightly an “ar­du­ous” process “to pro­tect brand UK HE”, he con­tin­ued.

Re­spond­ing to Pro­fes­sor Ernst’s crit­i­cisms, Mr Hunt said: “I would say we have a duty to be care­ful what we tell our pa­tients, to not make claims that are un­founded. And we are en­cour­ag­ing our stu­dents to be crit­i­cally re­flec­tive [on] os­teopa­thy and to start build­ing that ev­i­dence base to sup­port their claims.

“We recog­nise that for some of the things that some os­teopaths are do­ing, there is very lim­ited ev­i­dence [to demon­strate their ef­fec­tive­ness], and we need to gain more for that. But within medicine, there’s a lot of things that also do not have ev­i­dence for them, but some med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers are do­ing [them any­way].

“Pro­fes­sor Ernst raises a re­ally im­por­tant ques­tion that should chal­lenge us to be bet­ter and pro­vide more ev­i­dence for what we do.”

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