What are Degree Apprenticeships?

Written by: Petra Wilton | Published:
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Degree vs Apprenticeships? How about both? Petra Wilton argues the case for the emerging pathway of the Degree Apprenticeship

Degree Apprenticeships are an exciting new route into higher education and a career which bring together the very best of higher and vocational training.

Launched by the government in 2015, these courses allow students to earn while they learn, working in a full-time job alongside a fully funded part-time university education. Backed by industry and top educational institutions, Degree

Apprenticeships provide young people across the country with a head-start in their working lives, nurturing practical skills at an early stage, to give participating students an edge.

Comprising a combination of workplace learning, practical experience and separate study, Degree Apprenticeships provide an opportunity to gain a full Bachelor’s (Level 6) or Master’s degree (Level 7). With part-time study taking place at a university or college, it can take between three to six years to complete, depending on the level of the course and the previous experience of the individual.

As with other Apprenticeships, the cost of course fees is met by the new Apprenticeship Levy, meaning that the apprentice can obtain a degree without the worry of having to pay up to £9,000 a year in fees.

This year university admissions saw a fall of four per cent and the cost of attending is likely to be playing a part in this. If awareness around Degree Apprenticeships grows and participation increases, they could help to ensure that a talented pool of young people aren’t giving up on higher education altogether because of the colossal debt that comes with a traditional degree.

How does it benefit the employer?

A key part of Degree Apprenticeships is that they are co-designed by employers. This is so businesses can ensure that apprentices are being equipped with the skills they need to boost their own performance and productivity.
There have been several studies recently which have indicated that those taking up graduate entry-level jobs are lacking key employability skills. Indeed, many employers are becoming frustrated by the failure of some of our universities to provide job-ready graduates who can easily transition into the workplace.

In a study earlier this year from the Association of Graduate Recruiters, 65 per cent of employers said graduates lack the interpersonal skills necessary to manage people. Another 2017 survey from the CBI and Pearson found a third of companies are unhappy with graduates’ attitude to work, while highlighting their lack of cultural and customer awareness.

There’s no doubt that most students reap the rewards of university with regards to their future salary and career prospects, but it is clear that not all are gaining work-ready skills through their courses.

By putting employers at the centre of the process in designing and delivering Degree Apprenticeships, businesses are able to determine the knowledge, skills and even more importantly the behaviours that apprentices will learn and develop throughout their training. This aims to ensure that every aspect of the training is relevant to meet the employers’ needs.

What courses are on offer?

There’s a traditional view that Apprenticeships are limited to particular industries and tend not to result in professional high-skilled qualifications, but this isn’t the case. Degree Apprenticeships cover a range of sectors, from aerospace engineering through to digital technologies, retail, life sciences, public relations, construction and financial services.

Indeed, according to research by Universities UK (March 2017), the fastest growing Degree Apprenticeships are management, digital and engineering, which also reflects the critical skills gaps that employers are reporting.

Raising awareness

While participation is growing quickly, awareness around Degree Apprenticeships is still low. In our own CMI research of 16 to 21-year-olds, carried out with the EY Foundation (July 2017), 86 per cent of students said they had been given guidance from their schools about going to university, but just 48 per cent had received advice on Apprenticeships.

The limited information on offer to students is also having a negative impact on their views of Apprenticeships and possibly reinforcing old stereotypes, with 67 per cent associating Apprenticeships with low pay. This is certainly a misconception, with government estimates showing that a degree apprentice could actually earn up to £150,000 more over the course of their career than other graduates.

Raising awareness of Degree Apprenticeships will require schools and colleges to shift some of their focus away from traditional degrees. It will also require educational institutions to collaborate better with employers in the way that they market and promote participation. All should be making a concerted effort to open up the eyes of young people to the fact that the traditional degree route isn’t their only higher education option.

Around 1,000 Degree Apprenticeships are already under way and the government’s commitment to create three million Apprenticeships by 2020, alongside new targets for public sector Apprenticeships, signals that this is likely to be a growing market. The same March 2017 research by Universities UK predicted that the number of Degree Apprenticeships will see a 658 per cent rise to 4,850 for the 2017/18 academic year.

While we appear to be moving in the right direction, there is still a long way to go to meet the government’s target and see the profound effects that this will eventually have on UK business.

  • Petra Wilton is director of strategy at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

Further information

Higher and degree apprenticeships, Education and Skills Funding Agency (last updated March 2017): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-and-degree-apprenticeships


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