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Degree apprenticeships in the UK: ‘Bold’ reform needed to grow enrolment

Source: Leon Neal/AFP

Universities UK (UUK) is calling for bold action from the government to reform the degree apprenticeship system and boost its popularity.

The recommendations follow a survey conducted on 747 students from 11 schools, as well as 93 parents and more than 60 universities. One of its main findings is that four out of every five school pupils in Years 10 and 12 “know little or nothing at all” about how to apply for degree apprenticeships.

Less than one-tenth (seven percent) know about these course structures. Many view it as a “second-class” option compared to the traditional university route, according to the report by the representative body for 136 higher education providers.

“The benefits of degree apprenticeships to individuals, employers, the economy and wider society are too great to keep secret. Government must take the lead in promoting these and in reforming the system so more people know about degree apprenticeships and can do them,” said Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of UUK.

It recommended a campaign promoting the benefits of degree apprenticeships to employers and the public. This should include earlier guidance in schools, as well as making the UCAS application system as straightforward as it is for undergraduate degrees.

Degree apprenticeships combine part-time university study with employment, either on a daily basis or in blocks of time. Spanning three to six years, it’s a new type of programme offered by some universities, where achieving a full bachelor’s or master’s degree (Levels 6 and 7) is a core component of the apprenticeship. It differs from higher apprenticeships, which refer to all apprenticeships that include the achievement of academic/vocational qualifications from Level 4 up to bachelor’s and master’s degree at level 6-7.

Many students are unaware of this distinction, UUK’s report found.

More than a quarter (27 percent) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “‘Degree apprenticeships require fewer academic skills than an undergraduate/conventional degree.”

While the number of apprenticeship providers has exploded in recent years, universities remain the more popular option among school-leavers. In 2017, the number of 18 year olds accepted onto degree courses hit an all-time high, at 241,558. Apprenticeships are growing in popularity but Prospects UK notes that since 2014, only 56,200 workers have enrolled on higher and degree apprenticeships

Many reported that both vocational post-school options carry a stigma and have a lower social status compared to universities.

UUK’s findings follow a report by the UK Parliament Education Select Committee, which detailed a lack of quality training despite the increase in the number of approved providers, as well as barriers hindering students from disadvantaged backgrounds from accessing these further study options.

Commenting on UUK’s report, Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, said: “Students of all backgrounds should be encouraged to take degree apprenticeships, however my Committee’s report on value for money in higher education found a woeful lack of careers advice and awareness about the degree apprenticeship option.”

However, UUK’s research found that once degree apprenticeships are explained, students and parents expressed “significant” interest and enthusiasm. Students requested more information to be delivered via social media using current apprentices.

“There is a clear need for all parties to work together to improve information, advice and guidance,” it wrote.

The report also called for improved access to degree apprenticeships for those from less disadvantaged backgrounds, upgrading the system to meet current and future workplace demand as well as streamlining processes to help employers incorporate apprenticeships into their businesses.

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