This year sees the introduction of the apprenticeship levy which will help fund degree apprenticeships. As Elena Magrini of Universities UK explains, this is a great opportunity for universities to put themselves at the forefront of degree apprenticeship provision.
Launched in 2015, degree apprenticeships are a new way both to do a degree and an apprenticeship. They offer apprentices the chance to gain valuable working experience and earn a salary, while studying towards a debt-free degree. They are a crucial step in life-long learning, and are key to promoting the higher-level skills employers need.
From April, employers with a pay bill over £3 million will be required to pay the apprenticeship levy. The levy (equivalent to 0.5% of an employer’s pay bill) has been introduced to fund new employers-led apprenticeships, giving businesses a further incentive to invest in this project. As training providers, universities could take advantage of this new opportunity to enhance their contribution to meeting the skills needs of employers.
Universities ‘enthusiastic’ about degree apprenticeships
But is the sector ready? As part of its report into degree apprenticeships Universities UK has surveyed institutions to understand their level of engagement with degree apprenticeships, asking about motivators and barriers to implementation, as well as numbers of provision. Here is what we found:
- There is a high level of enthusiasm about degree apprenticeships, with at least 60 English institutions currently implementing or planning to implement degree apprenticeships in the next academic year
- Within only three years, the number of standards available for delivery has tripled, and the number of apprentices has increased exponentially
- By 2017-18 there will be at least 7,500 degree apprentices, but many more could start if new standards were to be approved
- Universities would like to expand their offer well beyond current provision, by implementing degree apprenticeships in 43 industry areas, with a particular focus on future public sector provision and
- They are actively engaging with the creation of new standards, working closely with employers-led trailblazer groups to design standards in new occupations
Clearly, universities are not only ready, they are enthusiastic. Degree apprenticeships are much more than just a new income stream, and their benefits extend to employers, apprentices and local communities.
New opportunities for widening participation
Degree apprenticeships are a great way to create closer links with existing employers and build new relationships with businesses traditionally not engaged with universities. With the levy coming in, employers will look at how to spend their money in the most effective way, and institutions offering degree apprenticeships will likely be good candidates, opening up new opportunities for further collaborations.
Degree apprenticeships could also play a key role in attracting those students that wouldn’t have chosen to pursue a traditional university degree. Thanks to the possibility of earning a salary while studying towards a debt-free degree, degree apprenticeships could appeal to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, helping universities achieving social mobility and widening participation goals.
But benefits for degree apprenticeships do not end here. The more institutions engage with degree apprenticeships, the stronger, more valued, the more convinced they are of the benefits.
Is this enough to make this new system work? In only three years, universities have been able to embrace degree apprenticeships and open the door to thousands of apprentices in a breadth of disciplines. But to ensure degree apprenticeships provide relevant higher level skills to employers, new standards in key occupational areas need to be made available, the process for standards approval needs to be streamlined and delays minimised.
Degree apprenticeships are a great opportunity for employers and apprentices for a number of reasons that go well beyond the mere financial. But we need to make sure that this new system allows degree apprenticeships to realise their potential in terms of increased productivity, social mobility and parity of esteem between vocational and university education.
To create momentum, continued and increased efforts by the government to publicise and raise understanding of degree apprenticeships must be encouraged.