Universities could be incentivised to run degree apprenticeships, minister suggests

University representatives have highlighted other areas which should be tackled first, though

University representatives have highlighted other areas which should be tackled first, though

Financial incentives are being considered as a way to encourage universities to run degree apprenticeships, further and higher education minister Michelle Donelan has told MPs.

Speaking to the Commons Education Committee on Wednesday, the minister was pressed by chair Robert Halfon on what was being done to promote apprenticeships at levels 6 and 7.

Donelan said she wanted “every university to be running degree apprenticeships,” and suggested: “We can incentivise universities.”

When asked by Halfon whether this included financial incentives, she replied: “I am looking at that, genuinely looking.”

‘Significant’ rethink of RoATP and promotion of degree apprenticeships also needed

Multiple higher education bodies have welcomed the idea of incentives, but highlighted other parts of the apprenticeship system which they think need to be addressed as well.

University Vocational Awards Council chief executive Mandy Crawford-Lee said incentives, “must enable organisations to fully utilise degree apprenticeships to raise productivity and deliver skills training in key public sector occupations”.

But she said there also needed to be “a significant rethink of the register of apprenticeship training providers, as at present it is discouraging new provide applications”.

Currently, only training providers which fulfil a training need or have been named as a preferred provider in an employer business case can be invited to join the register.

Admission to the register, which enables a provider to run publicly funded apprenticeships, was restricted during the coronavirus pandemic and was only opened back up to new entries in August.

Robert Halfon

Rachel Hewitt, chief executive of university representative organisation MillionPlus welcomed “government initiatives to boost the growth of this provision”.

However, one of the “key challenges remains a lack of student demand,” Hewitt argued, so she suggested government could start by “helping raise the profile of these courses”.

Higher education body GuildHE believes financial incentives “are part of the challenge,” but policy officer Matthew Guest said the “main challenge is the regulatory burden.

“You need to involve the employers, the industry bodies and now also comply with the Office for Students, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Ofsted.”

Since April 2021, Ofsted has been responsible for inspecting level 6 and 7 apprenticeships, while IfATE launched a consultation over the summer on how degree apprenticeships are created, run and examined.

Minister wants to ensure school students know about level 6 and 7 apprenticeships

In her evidence to MPs, Donelan said the institute was “trying to remove some of the bureaucracy,” and she wanted to ensure school students can access the courses.

“I met a group of apprentices either day, and not one of them had been encouraged to go on and do a degree apprenticeship by their teachers, not one of them had heard about them in their school.

“In fact, some of them had been encouraged not to and instead go to university and that’s what we need to be giving that information to our young people.”

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, currently being considered by MPs, includes legislation to toughen up the Baker Clause, which requires schools to allow colleges and training providers to discuss education options with pupils.

Donelan said degree apprenticeships are available in 94 universities.

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