The government has pledged to invest an extra £8 million to help universities “rocket-boost” degree apprenticeships – but it appears officials are yet to flesh out what the funding can be used for.
Joint FE and HE minister Michelle Donelan announced the fund on Twitter this week before telling MPs on the education select committee the pot is designed to incentivise greater numbers of degree apprenticeships.
The minister revealed that the fund would help with “start-up costs” but failed to provide any further detail.
The Office for Students, which will administer the fund, was unable to shed any further light at all on how the fund will be used specifically at the time of going to press.
Donelan claimed there are now over 39,000 degree apprentices in England – which is double the number since she came into her ministerial position in the DfE in February 2020.
Her ambition is for every university in England to offer the programmes.
University representative organisations welcomed any additional funding to further grow degree apprenticeships but questioned how the £8 million would be dished out to effectively incentivise more of their members to offer the courses.
They also warned that raising awareness of degree apprentices among prospective learners and encouraging more employers to offer the jobs need to be focused on in tandem with university capacity.
MillionPlus chief executive Rachel Hewitt said: “While degree apprenticeships have seen steady growth in recent years, key challenges continue to hinder expansion, including excessive bureaucracy and a relative lack of student demand.
“Efforts to address these issues need to go hand in hand with extra funding if the increased growth of degree apprenticeships that the government, providers and the public want to see is to be achieved.”
University Vocational Awards Council chief executive Mandy Crawford-Lee said she is unclear what the DfE refers to when it talks about an unmet degree apprenticeships demand.
“Do they mean particular types of standards? Is it actually gaps in the market where we need the creation of new potential work-based roots into some of the professions that have yet to be explored?”
Crawford-Lee told FE Week that the “race has already started” for start-up costs as there are now almost 100 universities actively delivering apprenticeships.
She said the fund should be used to support universities in diversifying their degree apprenticeship offer. “So moving into areas that potentially they haven’t moved into before, expanding their curriculum offer or their apprenticeship portfolio offer into new areas, new disciplines, new occupations, for example, and what that means in terms of building capacity.”
Crawford-Lee said some degree apprenticeship programmes are more expensive than others to deliver, particularly in STEM subjects, where the funding bands on offer to universities from the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education are unviable to match delivery costs.
The government has also handed a further £8 million to the OfS in 2022/23 to encourage greater provision of level 4 and 5 qualifications.
This is to be “allocated to providers with eligible learners on level 4 and 5 qualifications, through formula funding”, according to a letter from education secretary Nadhim Zahawi.
“As part of the HE reform consultation we are seeking views from the sector on how to support growth of high-quality level 4 and 5 courses and the possible role of grant funding in this, and responses will inform the detail of any allocations in future academic years,” his letter added.
No further information about the fund has been published yet.