The University Vocational Awards Council is demanding special treatment for universities offering degree apprenticeships, following the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s recent decision to extend existing non-levy contracts by a year.  

The body, which represents HE institutes delivering vocational training, is claiming that degree apprenticeship provision has been hit the hardest by the move and is calling for all smaller employers to have access to funding for degree apprenticeships.

“UVAC has been arguing for a new targeted procurement aimed at ensuring all non-levy paying employers have access to degree apprenticeship provision in their locality from the provider/university of their choice,” its position statement, published yesterday, said.

“Or, alternatively, that any ESFA transition arrangement prioritises and allows providers without ESFA contracts to tackle apprenticeship cold spots such as those that exist for degree apprenticeships,” it continued.

It is also asking for funding allocated to other providers who claim they can’t spend it because the 10 per cent co-investment is putting off employers to be reallocated to HE institutes without an existing allocation and who are “turning away employers and individuals who want to use degree apprenticeship”.

Apprenticeships with small, non-levy paying employers are currently funded through contracts held by just 683 providers.

The ESFA had planned for all employers to be transferred over to its apprenticeship service, currently used only by levy-paying employers, by April 2019.

But earlier this month the ESFA announced that this move had been put back by at least a year.

This was followed by a survey of providers currently on the register of apprenticeship training providers, asking for their views on the transition period for non-levy paying employers, which ran for just four days and closed on Monday.

UVAC has argued that extending the existing contracts was particularly unfair for degree apprenticeship provision.

The original tender process through which the contracts were awarded was “not fit for purpose”, UVAC argued, and had resulted in “cold-spots” where neither employers nor learners had access to degree apprenticeships.

Furthermore, it said, many HE institutes did not bid in the procurement and relied instead on the planned move of all employers onto the apprenticeship service.

“Now having developed provision and secured employer buy in they may be unable to meet such employer demand because of the ESFA failure to meet its own timetable,” it said.

Furthermore, it argued that the ESFA policy was “totally anti-competitive” and that those HE institutes or FE colleges offering HE provision “that have secured funding are being given an unfair competitive advantage; a point that might be of interest to a local MP”.

However, Simon Ashworth, chief policy officer at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said it was important to “ensure that the new system is fair to all rather than considering components within it that might lead to institutional bias”.

“The ESFA have made it clear that all providers on the register should have access to non-levy funding as part of the transition process,” he said.

An FE Week investigation, published on A-level results day, found that the options for those considering a degree apprenticeship as an alternative to a traditional degree were limited – with just 117 places across England on offer.

Degree apprenticeships, first introduced in September 2015, are apprenticeships at levels six and seven.

Of the 330 standards available for delivery, 61 are at this level.

But there were just 8,560 starts on 28 degree apprenticeship standards in the first nine months of 2017/18, out of a total of 119,580 starts on standards.

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