Future You podcast transcript

Why study a professional policing degree? (with University of Law)

June, 2023

On this episode we speak to Alastair White, a lecturer in policing at the University of Law and former detective chief inspector at Northamptonshire Police


In order of first appearance:

  • Dan Mason - editorial manager, Prospects
  • Alastair White - lecturer in policing, University of Law


Dan Mason: Did you know you can do an undergraduate degree that prepares you for a career in the police? Find out how this route into the profession can give you the skills and knowledge you need to get started in this episode of Future You.

Dan Mason: Hello and welcome to Future You the podcast from graduate careers experts Prospects. We're here to help you achieve your career goals. My name is Dan Mason and in this episode we're talking to Alastair White from the University of Law. As we'll find out Alastair teaches on the university's professional policing degree, and has many years experience in the police behind him as well. So he's perfectly placed to help us explore this route into a career in law enforcement. He'll explain why doing a degree is a great way to prepare to join the police, the work experience opportunities available alongside your study of police powers and the criminal justice system, and how the university is making use of new technologies to recreate crime scenes and ensure you're ready to launch your career.

Don't forget to subscribe to Future You in your podcast app and head to prospects.ac.uk for more career advice. Now, here's my chat with Alastair.

Dan Mason: I'm joined for this episode by Alastair White, lecturer in policing at the University of Law and a former detective chief inspector at Northamptonshire Police. Alastair, welcome.

Alastair White: Hi, how are you?

Dan Mason: I'm very well, thank you. It's great to speak to you. Before we get into the main discussion about the University of Law's policing degree, could you just for context, give us a bit about your own background, how you got into policing and your progress through to where you are now?

Alastair White: Yeah, sure. So I graduated with a law degree from Nottingham University age 21. I thought I was going to go down the law route. But I took a year where I went to work for a solicitor's firm realised that sort of office life really wasn't for me and then I was left with what am I going to do now?

I travelled quite extensively, I dabbled in a couple of other careers but really didn't find anything that really suited me. I wanted something that was outdoors, something that you're dealing with people, something exciting and I thought well, policing let's give it a try. So age 25, I joined the police. I joined Nottinghamshire Police initially and then transferred to Northamptonshire Police where I'm originally from and never really looked back after that.

It's great career very active, physical, you're doing good for the community. Sometimes you come back home, and you're absolutely exhausted but you've had a great day you go out the next day, do it all again. So yeah, really loved every second of my career and ended up as detective chief inspector on the homicides team in Northamptonshire and East Midlands, dealing with murders. From there retired after 30 years and joined the University of Law, teach the police degree at the University of Law.

Dan Mason: Fantastic. So now you're working with students who themselves are looking to follow your footsteps into policing. So let's talk about that the professional policing degree at the University of Law, which some people might be surprised that that kind of degree even exists and in terms of a route into policing. So can you tell us a bit about you know, a bit of an overview of the course and how that degree helps you develop the skills you need to become a police officer.

Alastair White: Okay, so I mean, I look back on my career, and I look back on essentially the first four or five years of policing. I really didn't know what I was doing. I really wish I had a policing degree to fall back on. I had a certain amount of knowledge of criminal law through my law degree but a professional policing degree gives you the knowledge of the criminal law. It gives you that and more.

You deal with well certainly on our course because we are the University of Law we've got a lot of lecturers who are barristers or ex barristers and solicitors. We teach you cross examination skills, we teach you interviewing skills, we teach you the law itself. We teach you police powers, identifying vulnerabilities in people, how to reduce risk. We teach you about forensics, teach about psychology, so you get a whole 360 degree learning package in relation to policing. So it's not just policing, it gives you a massive broad spectrum around the whole criminal justice arena, so to speak.

So I look back now and I think I walked out of my probation, two years in, and really, I didn't know anything. This policing degree is exceptional, and gives you all the skills bar defensive tactics that you require when you go out on the beat. We've got year three students now those that have applied for the police, they've all got in and they are all ready to go from the off.

Dan Mason: Policing is a career way where you will have some people sort of saying it's a learn on the job career rather than one you should be doing a degree for but you know, what you're saying clearly is that this this degree has value.

Alastair White: Yeah for that argument you could also say the same for a law degree and being a solicitor or a law degree and being a barrister. You could have that argument for a lot of other degrees that are out there. So this is no less worthy, you know than any degree out there I don't think.

Dan Mason: So how would you define the benefits of this degree and this way into policing as compared with other routes that are available to people.

Alastair White: So there are a couple of routes in mainly that there's a couple of routes around having a degree one the policing degree, one having any other degree, and then you've got your apprenticeship. And I suppose those people that are listening into this one are figuring out whether they want to do a policing degree, potentially doing an apprenticeship or go for another degree.

What I'd say to you if you're going to, let's take the apprenticeship start off with if you're going to do an apprenticeship, you're going to be learning on the job, you're going to be 18, you're not going to be 21. So you're going to be young, straight out of school, gonna go straight into full-time work with the overtime, with the nights, with the weekends, and all the strains and stresses that puts upon you, you're gonna have to work in the evenings. There's quite a big dropout rate in relation to the apprenticeship scheme.

The benefits of it are, you're not accruing any debt. However, I'd say with any degree, you accrue debt through your tuition fees. However, that's paid off in taxes, as you work as you go through your working life. So any degree you ever do you will accrue some debt anyway.

So those are the two, the other side of it is, you know, as a 21 year old, you've got a hell of a lot more experience than an 18 year old, coming straight out of school, you're more mature, you're more capable of dealing with things like issues around confrontation, you're more capable of navigating yourself around the adult world. And as a result, you'll, I'd say more beneficial to a police service, or the community as a whole coming out as a 21/22 year old with a policing degree and all the knowledge and skills that that gives you as opposed to an 18 year old going through an apprenticeship scheme. And having all those pressures and strains put upon you at that at that stage in your life.

Dan Mason: Yeah. You've covered this a little bit, but in terms of why you think it's so important to study in this level of detail and gain this knowledge before starting your career rather than studying alongside at the same time.

Alastair White: Confidence. So the confidence that this degree provides you the confidence in your own abilities, confidence in your own capability, knowledge, knowledge of the law, ability to be able to deal with whatever is presented in front of you. Your capability for promotion, your capability to take on a detective role is highly increased as well. Like I say you have the skills and what we do within the University of Law we encourage our second year students at the end of the second year to apply for the specials, so Special Constabulary to go out and do some voluntary work with the police service generally the Metropolitan Police, but also the City of London Police, encouraging them to take on a specialist role for a period of time during third year so that they can amalgamate all that they've learned on the course and also get the street level skills they need to apply for the police and put them in such a great position when they're applying for any police service, so we've got officers that are going to Greater Manchester, going to Thames Valley, Essex, as well as the Metropolitan Police. Puts them in such a great position to have all that experience behind them, as well as all the knowledge that they've gained from the policing degree itself.

Dan Mason: So they absolutely don't miss out on the experience side of it because of that volunteering opportunity.

Alastair White: None whatsoever, no. And also we mentor them through it. So the lectures we have within the University of Law, most of them are ex police, most of them have got a lot of experience in policing. So any problems or issues that they have during their time with the specials, if indeed they do have any challenges or difficulties, they can come to us and we can talk them through it. So you are supported and mentored throughout the whole of your three years in relation to this.

Dan Mason: So talk to me specifically about what this courses unique selling points are then. Why should somebody be looking at the University of Law for this degree?

Alastair White: Yeah, so I understand that there are roughly 20 or 30 universities that offer a policing degree and we're accredited. So we're accredited with the College of Policing as are most of the other universities. Within our university itself, we've got an award winning employability team so we will put you in touch with the right people. We highlight when any applications come out so just recently we've had the South Yorkshire application come out, we've highlighted that to our students as well. So we're on the front foot in relation to that.

We do a lot of learning by doing we've got a crime scene suite that we use. Like I said before, we've got barristers and solicitors that help us with the in court procedures that you need to learn about. We bring in guest lectures so recently, we had guest lectures on undercover policing, and digital forensics policing as an extracurricular activity. Location wise we're just around the corner from the Old Bailey, we've been down there to see how cross examination works in practice. We've got good links with the Old Bailey. We're trying to bring on now virtual reality in terms of being able to deal with car accidents, and dead bodies or homicide scenes, and being able to deal with those scenes, so we're bringing on virtual reality in relation to that.

As regards to our location, whilst you know, we were in London, I think we are in the most vibrant part of London you can actually be in for a student. We're round the corner from University College London, we're around the corner from the University of London. There are so many pubs, clubs, coffee shops, cafes, book shops, etc. in just that little half square mile. I think there's something in the region of about 200,000 students just in that area. So if there was a university quarter in London, which I think is one of the most vibrant capital cities in the world, if there was a university quarter, it would be the quarter where we are so location wise, we're in an excellent location.

I always say this to people that ask is, is it more expensive than anywhere else? Well, slightly more expensive, but not too much. To be honest, everywhere is expensive at the present time. If you if you are living in London, and can't afford accommodation fees, if you are living at home in London and looking around London say you don't want to go anywhere else because the accommodation fees now for universities are somewhere in the region of about £7,000 a year, or 6 to £7,000 a year something like that might even be more so you're saving yourself something in a region £21,000 over a three year course by biting the bullet living with your parents but you're also getting that university experience as well because we're in a really vibrant area for that. You could go to any other university and that's fine but some universities are literally situated on the outskirts of a small town by the ring road. Where would you rather be when you've got a spare four or five hours during the day between lectures? Would you rather be there or would you rather be next to the British Museum near Trafalgar Square, just off from Oxford Street you've got all these great areas around where we are so it is an excellent place to live and work. And also we're quite close to all the transport hubs so Euston station is a 10 minute walk away, Kings Cross is a 10 minute walk away all the tubes intersect within that area. So you know I travel myself I traveled from Northampton, it's an hour on the train. I know we've got students that travel in from Amersham, Tring, Hemel Hempstead so all those areas around London they travel in almost daily.

Dan Mason: That sounds fantastic. So you've got the location, you've got the course content. So I'm sure there's plenty people listening to this who are going to be interested. So what are you looking for? What type of students are suited to doing this kind of course? What kinds of things characteristics are you looking for in potential students?

Alastair White: I don't think there's any one characteristic that defines a student that takes on a policing course, we've got a huge range of diversity in the students we've got with doing the course at the present time. We're a 50/50 split between genders. We've got some Eastern Europeans. You know, we've got a huge range of diversity and ethnic backgrounds and heritages. So it's not one size fits all. We've got introverts and extroverts and that is what the police need, the police need that range of diversity in order to reflect the communities where we live and work.

So I would say it suits those who are looking for a job within the police, obviously, because it's personal policing degree. But I would also say that it's got, there's a range of skills that it gives you, within a whole of the criminal justice sector. So you know, legal executives, custody, anyone that's working in custody, prisons, etc, etc. It's 100% a transferable degree that you possibly don't get with other degrees.

Dan Mason: And would you say that on diversity point, would you say that this route into policing, this degree helps attract people who might not otherwise have considered policing in the past?

Alastair White: It's a question that can only be answered by those that take the degree themselves. I don't really know that I can answer it on their behalf. I would say that it offers you the opportunity to have a look at what policing is and how it works before you actually join a regular police force. Now, you may come to the consideration after two, three years of studying it and maybe working as a special actually, I don't really want to be a police officer like me, when I took the law degree and worked in a solicitors firm for a year and thought, well, actually, I don't really want to be a solicitor. I don't really see, I don't really know what I want to do you might get to that level. But with a professional policing degree skill with all that it gives you and all the skills that we require of you to pass your exams, etc, etc that's a hugely beneficial degree for any employer.

Dan Mason: And just finally, then, what advice could you give to anyone who's listened to this and is now interested in this degree, or this course, in terms of what are good things to do before you apply, or anything else you might say is good advice for before applying for this.

Alastair White: If you do a policing degree, you won't regret it, it's an enjoyable degree to do. It's got relevance across the broad spectrum of employability and it's obviously hugely relevant if you want to be a police officer as well. And we will get you to a stage whereby when you take your application for police, you'll have the experience of specials you'll have all the knowledge that you require, you'll understand your police powers. We will get you to a point in time where when you take that application for professional policing degree, you have got the best chance you have got to get into the police service.

What I'd say to you in terms of advice, well, I'm talking to 17/18 year olds here. I didn't know what I wanted to do when I was 17/18 I just knew that I wanted to go to university and I chose a course that I thought would be relevant to my skill set. I would say speak to those around you, gather all the information you can and by listening to this podcast you are doing the right thing by gathering that information and trying to understand where you want to go with this. Think about what is right for you now, but also trying to think about what is right for you, for your 21 year old self, so for yourself in three or four years time what will be right for you then. Speak to parents, speak to your teachers, those that you trust at school. And yeah, like I say, no one can make that decision for you only you can make that decision for yourself. But if you are thinking about doing a policing degree and at this point in time want to join the police you will not regret it it'll probably be one of the best decisions you make.

Dan Mason: Fantastic. Well, it's been great talking to you, Alistair. Thanks very much for your time.

Alastair White: That's right, Dan, thank you for having me on.

Dan Mason: Thanks again to Alastair for joining me and you can learn more about the University of Laws professional policing degree on their website law.ac.uk. If you want more career advice head to prospects.ac.uk and to hear more from Future You find and follow the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you prefer to listen. Get in touch with comments, feedback or suggestions by emailing podcast@prospects.ac.uk. That's it for this episode. Thanks very much for listening. And I'll see you soon.

Note on transcripts

This transcript was produced using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. The audio version is definitive and should be checked before quoting.

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