PhD-level apprenticeships are a ‘perfect fit’ for today’s jobs market, says UVAC director

A university membership organisation has criticised those opposing PhDlevel apprenticeships, saying such resistance shows a “bewildering lack of understanding of higher education provision and contemporary skills programmes”.

Writing for FE Week, Mandy Crawford-Lee, director of policy and operations at the University Vocational Awards Council, argues that “the whole concept” of knowledge, skills and behaviours or professional values “fits perfectly” with level 8 occupations, such as surgeons or dentists.

She was hitting back at criticism from some in the FE sector, including the Institute of Apprenticeships, which last month said these proposed apprenticeships were not in the “spirit” of the programme.

“Let’s knock on the head the idea of the appropriateness of apprenticeships at this level and the notion that level 8 can’t be about skills; a failure to do so is a failure to recognise the diversity and complexity of employment today,” Crawford-Lee argues.

She said she suspected part of the problem was that “many people are wedded to the idea that apprenticeships must remain a social inclusion route simply for the young or the disadvantaged and associate skills training”, particularly for those at levels 2 and 3, and as something delivered exclusively by colleges and independent training providers.

Instead, she believes an “objective glance” at the skills needs of the UK economy would confirm the need for level 8 apprenticeships, and “any employer engaged in their development should be congratulated”.

Crawford-Lee added it was “disappointing” that the existence and use of professional doctorates doesn’t seem to be understood by some in the skills sector, “given that there is a substantial track record of developing occupational competence at level 8”.

FE Week revealed last month that plans for PhD-level apprenticeships had been thrown into doubt after the IfA’s approval funding committee deferred approving the first PhD-level apprenticeship.

This was “in order to seek further guidance from the board and the Department for Education on whether level 8 apprenticeships were compatible with the aims of the apprenticeship reform programme”.

The committee was concerned at “whether it [the level 8 clinical academic professional standard] could be approved under current rules and whether it was in the spirit of apprenticeship policy”.

Minutes from an IfA board meeting in January showed a discussion concluding with an action for “the DfE to explore PhD-level apprenticeships are a ‘perfect fit’ for today’s jobs market, says UVAC director the concept of level 8 apprenticeships further and agree a policy position”.

The DfE told FE Week last month that “discussions are ongoing regarding these new proposals” and “we are looking carefully at what the priorities of the programme should be from 2020 onwards”.

Asked if there was any update this week, the IfA said there was not.

In her opinion piece, CrawfordLee urges the DfE and IfA to “stick to the concept of apprenticeship as an employer-led and productivityfocused skills programme”, avoiding giving providers the idea that the importance and value of higher-level apprenticeships are “not adequately supported by government policy and messages”.

The debate around whether the public should fund PhD-level apprenticeships comes as many sector leaders, including the IfA, have warned of an imminent apprenticeship budget overspend.

The latest to add their voice to the concern is the Public Accounts Committee, which published a damning report into the progress of the apprenticeships programme this week.