Five ways Michelle Donelan can grow degree apprenticeships without a cheque book

13 Nov 2021, 10:42

Remove a ton of restrictions and stop focusing on 18-19-year-olds, writes Mandy Crawford-Lee

In her recent evidence to the education select committee, Michelle Donelan was clear that the government wants more degree apprenticeships.  

The minister for higher and further education even went so far as to say she was looking at financial incentives to encourage universities to offer them.  

As the university representative organisation championing degree apprenticeships, UVAC is clear that financial incentives could have a useful role. But there are five actions the minister could easily take, without getting the cheque book out.

1. Open the ESFA Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP) to all higher education institutions

Staggeringly, the ESFA has in recent years restricted the ability of universities to apply to the RoATP. 

It was only reopened to new applicants, including universities, in August. Even now universities not on the RoATP may only apply if they fulfil a gap in provision or have been named as a preferred provider in an employer business case.  

The ESFA should open up applications to the RoATP for all higher education institutes and make clear that any successful university applicant can deliver all approved degree apprenticeships.  

The reapplication process to RoATP for universities should also be simplified. 

2. Remove restrictions on who is eligible for degree apprenticeship programme

Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a very public debate on introducing financial measures to restrict the growth of degree apprenticeship. 

FE representative organisations and various think tanks have proposed the introduction of age restrictions, reducing the proportion of levy funds that can be used to fund degree apprenticeships.

They have also proposed reducing opportunities for employers to use degree apprenticeships for existing staff, or individuals who already have a degree.  

The latter proposal would mean a 25-year-old with an English degree was prevented from using a degree apprenticeship to train as a police officer or registered nurse. 

To avoid reducing confidence in the degree apprenticeship offer further, ministers must make a long-term financial commitment to their future.

3. Shift the focus away from just 18-19-year-olds 

I am concerned at the apparent focus on 18-19-year-olds’ awareness of degree apprenticeships. In many cases, these apprenticeships are most appropriate for older learners.  

In many cases these apprenticeships are most appropriate for older learners

The police constable degree apprenticeship is a case in point. It supports the professionalisation of police recruitment and training and has been successfully used to recruit more women and individuals with a minority ethnic background. 

Ministers should certainly challenge universities, but they should also celebrate the success of their existing degree apprenticeship policy, including targeting older learners.

4. Clarify processes

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s current review of degree apprenticeship policy provides an excellent framework.

There are, however, some gaps in the review. There is little information on how the Office for Students will deliver its external quality assurance role in degree apprenticeship end-point assessment, or what universities should expect.  

At the same time, the ESFA has still not outlined how the use of credit in the degree to deliver the end-point assessment complies with their funding rules.  

Such uncertainty acts as a brake on investment by universities and therefore the growth of degree apprenticeships.  

Ministers should confirm that the IfATE leads the apprenticeship agenda and instruct OfS and ESFA to clarify their processes.

5. Develop a degree apprenticeship growth plan 

IfATE, working with trailblazers and the HE sector through UVAC, should develop a degree apprenticeship growth plan. Such a growth plan, focused on skills needs and the net zero and levelling-up agendas, would identify where there was the most need and potential to deliver degree apprenticeships. 

Degree apprenticeships require upfront investment in developing programmes and end-point assessment systems; recruiting and training new staff; and promoting programmes to employers and learners.

UVAC looks forward to supporting the minister to realise her ambitions to substantially grow degree apprenticeship participation. We hope she finds the above suggestions helpful.

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