The higher education regulator in England has been told to establish a £40 million fund to drive up degree apprenticeship provision in the next two years.
Education officials have confirmed the pot, which follows on from £8 million given this year, can be used for providers offering the higher apprenticeships for the first time.
The education secretary Gillian Keegan wrote to the Office for Students last week with details for its £1.4 billion strategic grant priorities for the 2023/24 financial year.
Among the priorities is an imperative for the OfS to form a £40 million pot for use in the next two financial years dedicated to degree apprenticeships.
Keegan wrote that the OfS should support establishments with “the greatest potential to diversify growth at level 6,” and confirmed it could be used to support providers looking to deliver degree apprenticeships for the first time, as well as for existing providers to widen their programmes and help improve access to the courses.
The letter added: “This funding represents a significant uplift in degree apprenticeship funding against last year’s initial allocation and to build a long-lasting capacity and capability. Projects must demonstrate strong progress against their aims in order to receive ongoing funding throughout that period.”
The current year’s allocation of £8 million was dished out between 102 universities and colleges, but was restricted to those already delivering the level 6 courses and not available to those wanting to deliver degree apprenticeships for the first time.
That cash, for use in the 2022/23 academic year, was designed to upskill staff delivering the courses, develop new degree apprenticeships beyond providers’ current offer or refresh existing programmes to better meet the needs of the labour market.
The OfS said it has not yet decided how the new funding will be distributed, which will be announced in due course.
John Blake, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, said degree apprenticeships and other technical qualifications were important alternative routes into higher education.
He added: “We welcome this funding, which will enhance and increase the provision of degree apprenticeship and other qualifications so that even more students can benefit from these technical skills and fulfil their potential.”
Upping degree apprenticeship starts has been one of the key pillars of the skills minister’s first six months back at the helm of the skills, apprenticeships and higher education brief.
Robert Halfon said that he wants all higher education providers to offer the courses, telling the Universities UK conference in February that level 6 and 7 apprenticeships now account for more than 12 per cent of apprenticeships.
Halfon said: “As a lifelong advocate of skills and technical education, there are no two words I love more than ‘degree apprenticeships’. They blend the very best elements of academic education with the benefit of hands-on workplace experience, whilst empowering people to earn whilst they learn and this investment will help to expand the range of degree apprenticeships on offer.”
Vanessa Wilson, chief executive of the University Alliance, which represents professional and technical universities, said the funding was “very welcome”.
“To meet the rising demand for degree apprenticeships, there is a need to quickly and significantly scale-up the number and variety of degree apprenticeships on offer,” Wilson said.
“The scale of this competitive funding provides an excellent opportunity to meet the challenge of expanding access to degree apprenticeships.”
The education secretary has also told the OfS to set aside £16 million of the strategic grant fund for the 2023/24 financial year to be spent on eligible learners on level 4 and 5 higher technical qualifications through formula funding.
That is to “encourage greater provision and build capacity amongst providers to reverse the recent decline of level 4 and 5 qualifications”.
It followed £8 million for this year for increasing provision of level 4 and 5 qualifications.
Halfon said the cash will help in vital subjects such as digital, construction and health that will “help plug skills gaps and get more people into great jobs”.