As the collective voice of universities across GB, Universities UK is an influential force in higher education. Their July report – The Future of Degree Apprenticeships – puts forward compelling arguments for the benefits of degree apprenticeships and a series of recommendations to help ensure they are a fundamental part of meeting the significant demand for high-level skills in the economy.
As the report details, backed up by research, degree apprenticeships are viewed positively by employers, universities, and students. The benefits can be summarised for each group.
· Employers, because of the opportunities to address skills shortages, provide structured development for their employees (thereby helping retention), and enhance their recruitment attractiveness
· Universities, because of building stronger relationships with employers, providing incremental opportunities for recruitment and income, and stimulating new approaches to teaching and learning
· Students, because of the additional opportunities for gaining a degree, without the cost, and in some cases also a professional qualification, whilst earning in the workplace
Put it that way, as a win win win, what is there not to support about degree apprenticeships?
The motivations for apprentices were also the subject of research commissioned by the Office for Students (OfS) in June – ‘Degree Apprenticeships Motivations Research’. The top motivating factor for both Level 6 (90 percent) and Level 7 (92 percent) respondents was getting a degree alongside earning a salary.
Quadrant was involved recently in a project for the OfS regarding the issue of the recruitment of mature students to Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health (NMAH) courses. In interviews with employers and NHS trusts, the topic of work based learning was much discussed. The trainee nursing associate programme (TNA) was seen by trusts involved as a particularly positive initiative and although adoption of TNA apprenticeships and nursing degree apprenticeships was uneven, many trusts intended to expand one or both of these and to use them to help address future vacancy levels in NMAH professions.
Some of the issues we encountered regarding apprenticeships, such as the regulatory and financial barriers, and lack of communications about the range of apprenticeships available or in development, were also highlighted in the Universities UK report.
Although we did not see degree apprenticeships as the solution (apart from anything, the NMAH recruitment ‘gap’ is much bigger than could be filled by apprenticeships), there is little doubt that they are particularly appealing for mature ‘students’ because of the work based learning opportunity they provide.
So, back to the Universities UK report and what could/needs to be done. The four main recommendations are worth showing verbatim.
‘Traditional’ degree programmes will still quite rightly be the choice for the majority, particularly younger people and those who do not have a particular vocation in mind. They also have important social, cultural and pastoral benefits.
Degree apprenticeships should be viewed as complementary, with particular relevance for the more mature. They can and should be an important part of the solution for improving the skills of the UK workforce and the productivity of the economy.
Despite some of the barriers, they provide an increasingly good opportunity for many universities to strengthen their ‘applied’ offer and demonstrate their vocational orientation, as well as build valuable relationships with local businesses. Apprenticeships may demand a different approach compared to the traditional degree but work based learning will continue to grow and those who adopt more flexible programmes will be in a strong position to take advantage.