Minister forces all employers to drop PhD apprenticeship plans

The skills minister has rejected all plans for PhD-level apprenticeships after concluding that funding them from the levy would not provide “value for money”.

In a letter to the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education published and laid in Parliament today, Gillian Keegan said the level 8 programmes are “not in the spirit of our reformed apprenticeships system”.

Two PhD-level apprenticeships – for a clinical academic professional and nuclear technical specialist – have been in the works for a number of years after being developed by employers.

The clinical professional standard had progressed the furthest, having been officially “approved for development” by the IfATE.

But the institute itself previously questioned whether the programmes would be in the “spirit” of the government’s new apprenticeships system.

The decision to never fund these level 8 programmes comes after the education secretary Gavin Williamson ordered a review of the level 7 senior leader standard that allows apprentices to gain an MBA. The MBA is now set for the chop later this year.

In Keegan’s letter, she said higher and degree level apprenticeships “continue to form an important part of our skills and education system, providing people of all backgrounds with a choice of high-value vocational training alongside traditional academic routes”.   

However, it is “important that levy funds are supporting those that can benefit most from an apprenticeship, such as those starting out in their careers or helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get ahead”.

“While we do not yet know the full impact of the Coronavirus, our priority is ensuring that apprentices and employers can continue to access high quality training, both now and in the future,” she continued.  

“I do not believe that using levy funds for level 8 apprenticeships, which could result in a PhD, provides value for money, nor are they in the spirit of our reformed apprenticeships system.  

“Therefore, I am writing to inform you that after careful consideration the department will not fund apprenticeships at level 8. As the powers to take decisions on standards development and approval reside with the institute you will wish to consider whether you continue to invest resources in the development of apprenticeships at this level.”

Keegan said she was aware “aware” that the employers involved have worked “hard developing not only these level 8 apprenticeships, but also a range of apprenticeships at lower levels that have contributed to the success of our reforms”.

“I want to thank them for their continued commitment to this vital programme.”

A spokesperson for the IfATE said: “We accept the decision and will not support the development of level 8 standards at this time.

“We would like to thank the trailblazers for their hard work on the proposals. The institute has been as upfront and informative as possible with them on the funding issue. We requested policy guidance from the DfE and it is appropriate that this has now been issued.”

Joanne Cooper, chair of the clinical academic professional trailblazer group, said the news “is disappointing” but added “we were aware at the outset that funding was not guaranteed and progressed on the basis of developing a national framework which have given us greater clarity and agreement regarding the knowledge, skills and behaviours of clinical academic roles”.

“I am grateful for the support from Skills for Health colleagues and the openness that the IfATE has had along this journey.”

You can read Keegan’s letter in full here.