As the wheels fall off plans for the first PhD level apprenticeship, have employers been ejected from the driving seat?

26 Apr 2019, 10:37

This week we reveal that an Institute for Apprenticeships sub-committee (that includes four board members) refused to approve the first PhD level 8 apprenticeship.

Instead, they asked the full board to rule whether a PhD level is even “in the spirit of apprenticeship policy”.

Four months on and the board is still in discussions with the DfE about an agreed level 8 policy, despite employers working on plans for a year, and the DfE is “looking carefully at what the priorities of the programme should be from 2020 onwards”.

The IfA hasn’t always given employers what they want, often quoting rules originating from the DfE when rejecting demands.

But there does appear to be far more concern over value for money and a weakening of the employer-ownership mantra, given it was only last May that their chief executive, Sir Gerry Berragan, told the education select committee: “The institute is completely agnostic about the level of apprenticeships” and “from my perspective, this is an employer-led process, and that is who we reflect.”

And at the same sub-committee meeting in December the IfA called for their board to consider if the “increasing number of degree apprenticeships, particularly at level 7, may put pressure on funding for delivery of apprenticeships at the lower levels, while cross-subsiding higher education from the apprenticeship budget”.

Despite this the IfA told FE Week this was not discussed at the following board meeting, so it remains unclear what the board think.

And as for the IfA chief executive, it seems if he does have a view he is not keen to share it, given ahead of our last interview it was a “condition that he wouldn’t answer questions relating to the levy and apprenticeships budget because that’s DfE responsibility”.

The truth is, as eloquently articulated by the DfE permanent secretary, the apprenticeship budget is on track to be overspent and hard choices will need to be made.

Now more than ever before we can be honest and say the employer ownership experiment has proved unaffordable.

The young people that would benefit most from the public funding should be in the driving seat, and the IfA could have an important role in helping define the priorities to make that happen.

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