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Can Degree Apprenticeships be the new training Top Trump?

In his latest blog, Paddy Patterson of Maverish Ltd and founder of Oxfordshire Apprenticeships discusses Degree Apprenticeships and their potential to give learners the 'best of both' vocational and higher education.

In a game of skills and training Top Trumps, the Apprenticeship card always had one major weakness; the highest level of qualification possible was always lower that the traditional degree route. For many people, that’s all that mattered and if Apprenticeship route was compared with the University route, this was the basis on which Apprenticeships were trumped. 

For many employers, particularly in ‘professional’ and STEM industries, the Apprenticeship with its old ceiling of Level 3, appeared to have nothing to offer. For them, the graduate route was the only route in the battle for talent and asking them to consider an Apprentice was the equivalent of asking them to take a knife to a gunfight.

Then the Higher Apprenticeship came along. I was involved in developing a Higher Apprenticeship framework about 5 years ago and it was a real insight into how, for many employers, the graduate route often glittered without being gold, but there in the absence of an alternative, they had little choice. Which explained industry enthusiasm for the Higher Level Apprenticeship as it was introduced to new sectors. It was especially interesting to be told by a global finance firm that their recruitment strategy would now be based on getting the best graduates along with the best Apprentices who could now get higher level, professional and degree-equivalent qualifications such as BTEC. But note the word ‘equivalent’! Still a little further to go.

So it was surely only natural that next stage of the Apprenticeship evolution was to incorporate a full Batchelor’s degree within an Apprenticeship? Indeed in March 2015, the government of the time announced the roll-out of 9 Degree Apprenticeships, designed by industry as part of the Trailblazer programme.

I’ll confess that when I first heard the term ‘Degree Apprenticeship’, my response had more than a touch of the “Garlic? Bread?” about it, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. But of course it makes complete sense. It’s the perfect vocational and higher education hybrid. It’s potentially the ‘best of both’ that industry says it needs and wants. Combining the work experience and industry savvy gained through an Apprenticeship, with the high level academic learning of a degree. It really could be a game changer.

What you need to know….

As with the rest of the Apprenticeship family, the Degree Apprenticeship is a combination of onsite learning with an employer and off-site education with a university or other HE provider. The normal Apprenticeship rules apply in terms of minimum working hours, wages and so on. Other headlines:

  • They could last up to six years, depending on the sector
  • Available at Level 6 (Batchelor’s degree) or Level 7 (Masters degree)
  • There is no tuition fee to be paid by the learner
  • The first Degree Apprenticeships commenced in September 2015
  • There are Apprenticeship Standards ‘ready for delivery’ in ten sector areas
  • Numbers are small but 1500-2000 ‘starts’ is estimated for 2016

It was announced during National Apprenticeship Week that the government will invest £10m in developing Degree Apprenticeships further. £8m of the fund will support universities in designing and delivering new Degree Apprenticeships, with the remaining £2m used to promote to potential learners. This Degree Apprenticeship Development Fund will be managed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

So, it reads well and sounds promising so far. What we don’t know, crucially, though is what the potential demand from employers is likely to be. The Skills Minister stated in October 2015 that he felt it would be “too risky” to have targets for the number of Higher Apprenticeship starts, including Degree Apprenticeships. Which might be wise given the slower than expected take-up of Higher Apprenticeships. That said, there’s every reason why Degree Apprenticeships should and can be a game changer, with there now being a potential pathway from Level 2 all the way up Level 7, incorporating a full degree, all via workbased learning. And perhaps that’s the key to Apprenticeships becoming the ‘gold standard’ the government wants them to be.

What do you think? Do you think Degree Apprenticeships will be a credible alternative to traditional degrees? Will they give learners the best of both vocational and higher education? Join us for Oxfordshire Apprenticeships Hour on Twitter this Thursday 28th April from 1-2pm and share your thoughts. Tweet @OxonApprentice or join in the conversation using the hashtag #OAHour.