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Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

The Future of Degree Apprecticeships

A year after the Conservative/LibDem coalition Government announced the creation of nine new degree apprenticeships, Universities UK has published a report looking at how the programme can be improved and expanded.

Last spring, the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills rolled out the new degree apprenticeships, the first in a programme unveiled in November 2014. These would see students splitting their time between university and the workplace, gaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree while earning money and gaining on-the-job training and experience. This was, according to the Government, “an innovative new model bringing together the best of higher and vocational education” and went further than the existing Higher Apprenticeship scheme in integrating academic study.

These apprenticeships were developed by more than 100 companies working with more than 20 universities, being suitable for both small and large businesses. The nine degree apprenticeships were mainly in construction, engineering and technical industries, but also included surveying and public relations.

Earning potential

The Government said: “As with other apprenticeships, the cost of course fees are shared between government and employers, meaning that the apprentice can earn a full bachelors or even masters degree without paying any fees.”

One year on, and research commissioned by the Chartered Management Institute shows that “61% of parents [favour] a Degree Apprenticeship with a major company such as M&S or Rolls-Royce over a traditional degree from Oxford or Cambridge.”

The Sutton Trust, an education opportunities think-tank, has also found that “people who had completed level five apprenticeships (equivalent to a foundation degree) were expected to earn £52,000 more over their lifetimes than graduates from non-elite universities.”

With plenty of other research showing that graduates may earn much more than non-graduates over their lifetimes (for example in the Government’s own figures here – PDF), and in a world in which degrees seem to be a prerequisite (last year’s London Amibitions report said that by 2022, 60% of jobs in London will require a degree, for instance), degree apprenticeships appear to offer an attractive solution.

Nationwide value

In its March 2016 report, The Future Growth of Degree Apprenticeships (PDF download here), Universities UK notes that apprenticeships remain “a central part of current government policy.” Indeed, the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto pledged to create 3 million new apprenticeships in England by 2020. UUK says that degree apprenticeships present universities with new income streams, help to widen participation in education by giving an alternative to traditional full-time study and the offer of a “debt-free” degree, potentially make students more employable and help build links between academia and industry.

Meeting the needs of employers is a critical aim. UUK’s report says: “There is a wealth of evidence indicating unmet demands for skills in the UK across a range of industries. In engineering, for example, the Institute for Engineering and Technology survey of 2015 finds that ‘more than half of employers surveyed say that recruits don’t reach the expected standard and nearly two-thirds think skills gaps are a threat to their business’. Similarly, Engineering UK agrees that ‘the rate of change in the growth of supply is far too slow to meet the forecast UK demand for engineering skills’. In arguing the case for an apprenticeship levy, Alison Wolf identified that in the UK ‘engineering companies are desperate for skilled workers, and construction companies can only operate because of large-scale immigration from other parts of the EU.’”

Lessons learned

In its report, UUK points to some lessons learned so far for, and by, universities. Universities should make sure they develop degree apprenticeships in alignment with their strategic objectives. So a university that wants to build on its connection with its local community, for example, should look at skills shortages in its own “back yard”. They need to make sure they are developing courses that will meet an actual demand, and must understand and accommodate the needs of the business they work with. They also need to make the case for degree apprenticeships internally, among managers and academic staff, as well as to potential students.

The Government, too, needs to do its part by being clearer in its information about the programme, properly integrating the programme in the wider development of apprenticeships, giving unis the resources they need to promote the courses, and tidying up the uncertainties inherent in its ongoing education reforms, the report says.

It concludes, in a nutshell, that communication will be key to the success of degree apprenticeships – between universities and industry partners and other employers, between those who offer degree apprenticeships and schools/careers advisers/parents/future learners, between HE and FE, and internally within each sector and provider.
For degree apprenticeships to work, each player needs to be clear about their roles and responsibilities in delivering them.

Getting the message

The Chartered Management Institute, which led the development of the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship, insists that more needs to be done in schools and by businesses to promote and understand the opportunities that degree apprenticeships present.

The CMI said of its own research among parents: “Teachers came in for particular criticism, with less than half of parents trusting them to promote apprenticeships ahead of traditional degrees, despite 77% of the 1,003 parents surveyed believing they should be equally promoted.

“Many parents also believe employers should be doing more to support young people, with only 16% agreeing employers are doing enough to help those entering the workplace.

“This represents a significant opportunity for employers looking to generate their next generation of leaders, with the apprenticeship levy announced by George Osborne introducing new ways of funding such schemes.”

What do you think? Would you recommend degree apprenticeships to your students? Let us know in the comments below.

Posted by Nicholas Manthorpe on Fri, 10 Feb 2017

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Nick was a reporter for the Eastern Daily Press and its sister weekly titles in Norfolk and Waveney, then served as Media Officer for North Norfolk District Council for 13 years. He now works as a writer and PR and media relations consultant. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, an associate member of the Chartered Management Institute and a member of East Anglian Writers.

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