Acupuncture Training, Qualifications and Degrees – The Current Situation in Europe

Mary Plunkett, Irish College of TCM, Dublin. Originally published in Shenmen Publications Jan 2012, Updated June 2014.

Recently several colleges of Acupuncture TCM in Europe, which previously had their courses validated by European Universities, have had their degree validation removed and several such TCM Colleges have, indeed closed within the last few years.  Additionally, some validating bodies have also refused to accept Acupuncture TCM programmes as being at degree level.

Why is this the case when all trained practitioners of Acupuncture TCM working in China have a choice of excellent TCM Universities at which they can gain a Bachelors degree in Chinese Medicine?

Firstly, in Europe, some particular individuals in the Academic Scientific community have taken it on their shoulders to, as it is often called, “debunk” alternative medicines.  They have lumped together all forms of therapies – Colour therapy, Angel therapy, Touch-for-health, Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine, Western Herbalism and so on, and claim a lack of proper double-blind scientific trials within the whole field.

From this they have concluded that subjects within the field of CAM (Complementary and Alternative medicine) are generally not scientifically valid and have no proven effectiveness.  In light of this, they argue, CAM programmes should not lead to a degree qualification.

Secondly, in Ireland, as an illustration of this way of thinking, HETAC – the main validating body – has refused to validate programmes in our field until the effectiveness and scientific validity of the claims for Acupuncture and TCM have been established.  When I asked them who was going to assess this they said their own scientific experts could be trusted to do so.  I asked if any of these experts read Chinese.  They looked at me with surprise, having  perhaps assumed that scientific research would be available in English.   Needless to say, while some such information is available in English, the vast majority of scientific information on Chinese medicine is in Chinese!  HETAC, and their de-bunking scientific colleagues in other parts of Europe, have either failed to realise this, or chosen to ignore it.

So, why can’t TCM colleges in Europe get validation for degree level courses from Chinese TCM Universities?

The Irish College of TCM has had a formal relationship with Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine for many years now and in the last two years the ICTCM Director and myself have also visited many of the other main TCM Universities in China, including Chengdu, Beijing and Nanjing, to assess the current qualifications situation.

Essentially a Chinese degree in Chinese Medicine takes 5 years full time and unless an institution in Europe is intending to offer the same amount of teaching, following exactly the same curriculum, and using (mainly) Chinese TCM University staff to teach this (even if it is being run in another country) then any so-called “Degree qualification” offered in Europe and claiming to be validated in China is probably NOT a real degree, unless the joint partner in Europe is already a University.

All the TCM Universities we visited in China were happy and keen to collaborate and offer their own individual University’s Acupuncture College Certificate to western students who studied on Acupuncture courses run in Europe, provided some of the teaching takes place either in the Chinese University itself or is taught by Chinese University staff in Europe, but these students are NOT being given Chinese degrees and will not therefore be recognised as having a degree by Europe governments unless the Acupuncture TCM School or College is itself recognised, within the European country concerned, as a University in its own right – and thus entitled to award degrees.

The Chinese TCM Universities say: if students want a degree in TCM, they can come to China to get it.

This being the case, we at the Irish College of TCM are focussing our attention on providing the best quality of degree-level education and training that we can – even if it is not currently a “validated bachelor level degree” per se it provides direct entry to a GUCM Masters Degree and the public can continue to be provided with good qualify practitioners of Acupuncture TCM in Ireland and beyond.  We ensure that our training meets any requirements currently set in Europe and that it is recognised by an established and respected professional Acupuncture TCM professional body – the PRTCM.

Then we hope that some of our qualified practitioners will wish to become students on a Masters Degree in TCM with us (fully validated in China but mainly run in Ireland) thus contributing, in the future, to the scientific validation of Acupuncture and other branches of TCM, by engaging in scientific research into Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine and Medical Qigong and contributing scientific papers and research materials into these disciplines in English.

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