UVAC’s agenda, once marginal, is now getting the recognition it deserves. Read the Secretary of State’s Higher Education Strategic Priorities Grant Letter to the Office for Students for the 2023-24 financial year, and it is apparent how the higher level vocational learning policies and programmes championed by UVAC are now central to the Government’s Higher Education agenda.
Go back to the year UVAC was established, 1999, and our agenda to champion higher level vocational education was, at best marginal. UVAC’s development work largely focused on supporting universities and higher education institutions (HEIs) to engage with level 4 and 5 National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) – remember them? Of course many universities just got on with the vocational agenda, undertaking a considerable amount of valuable work with employers. Such activity, although valued by employers and learners did not however, have the recognition it deserved, and it was certainly not a priority for national policy makers in and outside Westminster Government.
Read the Secretary of State’s Higher Education Strategic Priorities Grant Letter to the OfS for the 2023-24 financial year, and it is apparent how different the higher-level vocational agenda is to that of 1999. The higher level vocational learning policies and programmes championed by UVAC are now central to the Government’s Higher Education agenda. The terminology in the Grant Letter is particularly interesting with emphasis placed on enabling “universities and colleges to offer more high-quality training opportunities that enhance the career prospects of their students.”
Degree Apprenticeships are now a priority, with a new two-year £40m development fund specifically outlined in the Grant Letter itself. In 1999, the year UVAC was founded, Modern Apprenticeship was a level 3 programme. The level 2 programme of 1999 was National Traineeships that would shortly be replaced by Foundation Modern Apprenticeships. National Traineeships then replaced the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) of the 1980s, the Government response to the widespread youth unemployment of the time.
Degree Apprenticeships did not exist until 2015, although a fleeting experiment with Graduate Apprenticeships in the early 2000s was introduced, but they petered out as policy makers lost interest. Today, Degree Apprenticeships account for 18% of all Apprenticeship starts (first quarter of the 2022/23 Academic year) and grew by 14% when the first quarter of the 2022/23 Academic Year (August, September and October) is compared with the same quarter in the 2021/22 Academic year.
Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, Rt Hon Robert Halfon has been very clear; he expects all universities to offer Degree Apprenticeships. Degree Apprenticeships are seen as a mainstream offer and key priority for universities.
Level 4 and 5 Provision
In many ways the Government’s emphasis on the need to grow level 4 and 5 provision and its request to the OfS to allocate £16m in the 2023-24 financial year to “encourage greater provision and build capacity”, follows on from many previous policies. Interest in expanding level 4 and 5 provision is not new. The launch of Foundation Degrees in 2000 by Labour Education Secretary David Blunkett was a particularly important development.
The rationale for the expansion of levels 4 and 5 outlined in the Grant Letter “shorter and cheaper than degrees” and “growing employer demand for skills at these levels”, has also been pushed many times by Westminster Government. The present level 4 and level 5 policy agenda is, of course, based around the Government’s flagship Higher Technical Qualifications, which are qualifications approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) as meeting the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed by a sector.
Interestingly, the Grant Letter makes no reference to Higher Apprenticeships. We would suggest that this is because their growth is being supported by the DfE sponsored Apprenticeship Workforce Development (AWD) Programme, in which UVAC is a delivery partner alongside the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), Association of Colleges (AoC), Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) and Strategic Development Network (SDN). The AWD also, of course, supports Degree Apprenticeship design, delivery and excellence.
Lifelong Loan Entitlement
The introduction of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) from 2025, and the OfS support for the sector to prepare for its introduction will stimulate the development of HE short courses, modularisation and credit transfer. Credit accumulation and transfer and providing ‘bite-sized’ learning opportunities has been a key part of the UVAC agenda for many years. The LLE could be transformational in Higher and Further Education, particularly for older learners, individuals following vocational programmes and for workforce development and work with employers.
Emphasis in the Grant Letter on the “ladder of opportunity” and the role vocational learning plays in widening access, also reflects the UVAC agenda. The Grant Letter in the paragraph on Uni Connect places emphasis on Apprenticeship and Higher Technical Education, as well as supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve the highest possible grades.
The higher-level vocational learning agenda UVAC has championed and supported for nearly twenty-five years is undoubtedly now centre stage.
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