University in drive to push MBA apprentice places as government reviews funding

A university is scrambling to recruit MBA apprentices amid the government’s review of the programme’s funding.

On Monday the University of Bradford contacted small businesses to insist that “if you’ve ever wanted to do an MBA, now is the time”.

An email, seen by FE Week, claims that government has “temporarily opened” the level 7 senior leader apprenticeship “up to non-levy paying companies” – even though the controversial course has been available to all employers since it launched in February 2018.

If you have ever been considering doing an MBA, there couldn’t be a better time

The university also claims the programme has been “massively subsidised for a limited period, meaning rather than firms having to pay £18,000, they would pay only £900”, despite the 95 per cent subsidy referred to for small businesses being government policy since April 2019.

The email adds: “Because there is only a limited window to apply and the government are due to review funding later in the year, if you have ever been considering doing an MBA, there couldn’t be a better time”.

It goes on to list eight course teaching dates from June 2020 to March 2021.

Craig Johnson, a senior lecturer at the university, signed it off by stating: “I urge any business which wants to grab this opportunity while it’s available.”

A review into the level 7 senior leader apprenticeship standard was launched in February after education secretary Gavin Williamson said he was “not convinced the levy should be used to pay for staff, who are often already highly qualified and highly paid, to receive an MBA”.

Government funding for it could be switched off later this year as a result.

A spokesperson for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education said the trailblazer group for the standard is currently reviewing the programme and will provide feedback by May 20.

The Department for Education said the deadline of June 1 for a decision on its funding future still stands.

They added that while the review is underway, it’s up to providers to decide how to recruit and promote the apprenticeship.

Training providers, including many top universities, have made millions from the MBA apprenticeship since 2018 as it soared to become one of the most popular standards in the country.

FE Week analysis shows there had been 6,387 starts on the programme since launch to the first quarter of 2019/20. Each of these attracted up to £18,000 of levy funding – meaning as much as £115 million has been spent on this standard to date.

The University of Bradford told FE Week it currently has 15 apprentices on the programme, but could not say how many more are expected to enrol this year.

When challenged on their claims about the programme being “temporarily” opened and subsidised for a “limited period” to small businesses, the university denied that the advert was misleading.

“The funding is under review. MBA apprenticeships are therefore under scrutiny and therefore we do not know how long we will be able to offer the MBA as an apprenticeship,” a spokesperson said.

“We want to raise awareness amongst local businesses while it is confirmed that funding is available.”

There is only a limited window to apply

Most universities were not able to deliver apprenticeships to small business until the Education and Skills Funding Agency started moving non-levy payers onto the digital apprenticeship service in January.

Prior to that, only providers that won a non-levy allocation via a tender could train apprentices for SMEs.

The University of Bradford confirmed that it only began offering apprenticeships to non-levy payers in recent months.

Natalie Wilmot, an MBA director at the University of Bradford, believes it is “important that the government continue to support this apprenticeship”.

“We see leadership and management development as crucial to boosting UK productivity, as it ensures that people are properlyprepared for leadership roles, instead of continuing to rely on ‘accidental managers’ – people with technicalexpertise in their area, but little formal training or education in business and management,” she added.