PhD-level apprenticeship plans move a step closer

Plans for PhD-level apprenticeships have moved a step closer, despite the government’s failing to agree a policy position on the controversial concept.

A proposal for the first ever level 8 apprenticeship – the clinical academic professional – has been approved for development.

It is not known how long the standard, for the health and science sector, will take to develop before its final programme can be put to the government and be signed off for approval and delivery.

The chair of the trailblazer group declined to comment.

FE Week revealed in April 2019 that plans for PhD-level apprenticeships had been thrown into doubt after the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) raised concerns they were not in the “spirit” of the programme.

And it appears the quango still has apprehensions about them.

Officials on the IfATE’s approval and funding committee discussed the level 8 clinical academic professional programme in September, the same month the standard was signed off for development.

Minutes from that meeting stated: “The committee expressed concerns about whether this occupation meets the criteria for an apprenticeship, in particular the inclusion of a PhD.

“In addition, the committee believed that it did not meet the criteria for an apprenticeship standard.

“The committee noted that further discussions were ongoing on this issue in conjunction with the Department for Education.”

A spokesperson for the IfATE would not comment on the progress of the standard’s development this week.

He would only say that: “The proposal for a level 8 clinical academic professional standard has been approved for development following consultation with the Department for Education.

This is the first stage towards full approval of the apprenticeship for use by employers and apprentices.

“Work will continue with trailblazer employers to ensure that it meets government policy and quality criteria.”

Minutes from an IfATE board meeting in January 2019 revealed a discussion concluding with an action for “the DfE to explore the concept of level 8 apprenticeships further and agree a policy position”.

FE Week asked the department this week if they had now agreed a way forward.

A spokesperson told us: “We are continuing to keep the programme under review, and we are looking carefully at what the priorities of the programme should be from 2020 onwards.”

The spokesperson would not say whether a policy position had now been agreed, despite it being more than a year since the issue was raised.

A proposal for a technical specialist in nuclear engineering, science or technology PhD-level apprenticeship has also been in development since 2018.

Last year the employers involved said they were expecting a speedy resolution, but the trailblazer group is still waiting for a decision on the proposal by the IfATE.

A spokesperson for the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group told FE Week: “The trailblazer group of nuclear sector employers is continuing to develop the level 8 nuclear technical specialist standard, and following the IfATE’s processes for applications.

“The group received confirmation from IfATE in August that they would receive submissions for level 8 standards. The occupational proposal for the standard was originally submitted in September, and the IfATE panel requested some amendments, following which the group resubmitted a revised version in December.

“We await the decision on the revised proposal, but in the meantime we have continued to work on the content of the standard itself and the assessment plan, in preparation for submission according to the IfATE deadlines.”