Almost all universities that offer apprenticeships are delivering quality training, according to exclusive analysis of Ofsted data that could aid new skills minister Robert Halfon’s desire to “rocket boost” degree apprenticeships.
Ninety-three universities have racked up almost 100,000 apprenticeship starts between them since 2018 – three quarters of which are level 6 or 7 (degree-level) apprenticeships.
Of those, 40 universities have received a full inspection from Ofsted and 35, or 88 per cent, have been judged ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, according to figures crunched by Apprenticeship Data Insights.
An additional 26 have received an early monitoring visit from the education watchdog and 25, or 96 per cent, have received ‘significant’ or ‘reasonable’ progress scores.
In comparison, 64 per cent and 76 per cent of independent training providers and colleges were given Ofsted’s top two grades in the past year respectively.
The figures could act as evidence to back up the government’s goal of ramping up the number degree apprenticeships in England, which are mostly delivered by universities.
Last year then-joint HE and FE minister Michelle Donelan ordered universities to set “ambitious targets” to boost the proportion of students studying degree apprenticeships, which have soared in popularity since their launch in 2015.
“I want every university to be holding degree apprenticeships”, she said, adding that financial incentives for universities were being considered to meet this goal.
New skills, apprenticeships and higher education minister Robert Halfon is arguably the biggest advocate of degree apprenticeships. He told a Lords committee this week his “two favourite words in the English language” are “degree” and “apprenticeships”.
He previously said he would like to see 50 per cent of university students enrolled on degree apprenticeships.
Halfon told FE Week: “We’ve seen the popularity of degree apprenticeships grow and grow. We want to further accelerate this growth further and I would like to see all higher education providers consider offering them.”
Ofsted has always inspected provision from levels 2 to 5, including in universities, but was only handed powers to inspect degree level apprenticeships only in May 2021.
The powers came after chief inspector Amanda Spielman voiced concern multiple times that some universities were getting away with offering level 6 and 7 apprenticeships which are simply “repackaged graduate schemes”.
Mandy Crawford-Lee, chief executive of the University Vocational Awards Council, said she is happy that the majority of universities have come out with top grades and applauded the government’s ambition to grow degree apprenticeships.
But she said there are a number of barriers in place that could prevent further growth of university apprenticeship provision.
She said one of the biggest issues relates to the viability of some funding bands for degree apprenticeships which do not reflect the true cost of delivery.
Vanessa Wilson, chief executive of the University Alliance, added that “burdensome regulation” from multiple agencies, of which Ofsted is just one, is “currently holding back universities and employers from scaling up and widening the higher and degree apprenticeships offer”.
“It is high time to revisit the way this innovative provision is assessed and regulated,” she added.
Wilson called on Halfon to “act now and rationalise the regulation of degree apprenticeships” to ensure that this “win,win,win provision can be turbo-boosted to benefit students, industry and the economy”.
Previous research has highlighted social mobility issues for degree apprenticeships.
Analysis published by the Sutton Trust in 2020, a social mobility foundation, found that young apprentices from deprived areas have been “crowded out” since the introduction of the levy as they made up 6 per cent of degree level apprentices in 2018/19, falling from 9 per cent in 2016/17.
It indicates that this type of provision, initially introduced to help disadvantaged learners access university degrees, is not working as intended.
Former skills minister Anne Milton and her successor Gillian Keegan, who is now education secretary, have both said fears of a “middle-class grab” on apprenticeships are “valid”, particularly when it comes to degree apprenticeships.
Peter Lampl, founder and chair of the Sutton Trust, said: “In order to address the woeful supply of degree level apprenticeships, it’s absolutely imperative that universities and employers work together to engineer a step change in the supply of apprenticeships, with more targeted at disadvantaged youngsters.”
John Blake, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, said the higher education regulator will continue to encourage “universities and colleges to continue to monitor and review their degree apprenticeship courses to ensure they are meeting our regulatory requirements and are providing students with positive outcomes”.