From education to employment

Levelling up apprenticeships or maintaining an employer-led system – Can we have both? Sector Response

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson

MBA Management #Apprenticeship Faces The Axe

Today (27 Feb), the Secretary of State for Education, @GavinWilliamson, has written to Jennifer Coupland, Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education @IFAteched asking her to review the Senior Leader Master’s Degree Apprenticeship standard to ensure it is meeting its intended aims and providing value for money.

This apprenticeship – which was approved for use by the IfATE in February 2018 – is the second most popular standard on offer at this level with 3,410 in 2018/19.

It is currently the only apprenticeship standard at this level that contains either an MBA, MA or MSc in management.

In his letter, the Secretary of State reiterated his determination to ensure levy funds are used to support the people that can benefit most from an apprenticeship, such as those starting out in their careers or those from disadvantaged backgrounds, rather than paying for staff who already have a degree and are highly qualified to receive an MBA.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“The levy funds apprenticeships for businesses of all sizes, helping people of all ages and backgrounds make the most of their talents.

“I am committed to maintaining an employer-led system, but I’m not convinced the levy should be used to pay for staff, who are often already highly qualified and highly paid, to receive an MBA.

“I’d rather see funding helping to kick-start careers or level up skills and opportunities. That’s why I’ve asked for a review of the senior leader apprenticeship standard to ensure it is meeting its aims.”

Sector Response

Lucy Hunte, National Programme Manager, Apprenticeships Talent for Care, Health Education England, said:

“The Education Secretary comments seem at odds with the Institute’s in that on the same day he writes this letter they yet again turn down the proposal for L2 Business Administration. I agree with his sentiments “ to ensure levy funds are used to support the people that can benefit most from an apprenticeship, such as those starting out in their careers or those from disadvantaged backgrounds” but surely that is exactly what the L2 BA standard would do?

“If there are concerns around the misuse of the L7 Senior Leader then set a salary cap? In the NHS we had almost 24,000 apprenticeship starts in 18/19 and only a small percentage were on this programme and where they have been it has been to train the next generation of future leaders not those already doing the role.

“Employers should be free to spend their levy as they see fit to train their workforce and in the NHS we ensure this is with career pathways from Level 2 up to Level 7.”

Simon Rouse, Group Managing Director of PeoplePlus, said:

“The Apprenticeship Levy must be a vehicle for social mobility. The Government’s focus on providing opportunities through apprenticeships is very welcome, and we should make sure the Levy helps young people into the labour market and enables people to upskill and develop in their careers.

“The Levy policy has matured over the last three years and we’re seeing the benefits of employers and training providers having developed schemes up and running. As with any policy, it’s important we test its impact to make it’s working optimally. We’ve got good foundations in place, and we need to think in terms of evolution rather than revolution”

A spokesperson for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, said:

“We will look again at the apprenticeship in question.

“We now have over half a million people in total on over 500 different high-quality apprenticeships at many different levels.

“Apprenticeships have a positive impact on the lives of people from all backgrounds.”

David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC) comments:

“I welcome the announcement by the Education Secretary that has asked for a review of the Level 7 apprenticeship standards. I have been asking for some time whether these and other examples of the use of the levy meet the Government’s own definition of an apprenticeship. The strength of the apprenticeship system is its ability support job creation and associated skill development for people new in post through robust on and off-the-job training.

“With a tight apprenticeship budget, the higher level apprenticeships are essentially drawing funds away from those entry level roles. So I am very pleased that the Education Secretary is focused on ensuring that people seeking to enter the workforce through an apprenticeship pathway are supported to do so, and that those opportunities are not lessened by inappropriate use. This review is a good opportunity towards rebalancing the apprenticeship system in to a targeted and sustainable programme that concurrently supports business and job entrants alike.”

Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) said:

“The Secretary of State is right to ask for a review of MBA apprenticeships. By any international definition of apprenticeships, firms claiming public funding to place often well-paid, degree educated employees, on senior management courses, does not appear to measure up to the real purpose of the programme. Apprenticeships are about taking a novice, usually a new entrant to the workforce, and training them to reach a level of occupational competence. Degree-level apprenticeships have a role to play because they provide a ladder of opportunity from entry-level though intermediate to higher-level skills. However, the challenge for the current English apprenticeships system, is that public funding and the Levy is being skewed towards workers over the age of 25; and those earmarked for higher-level apprenticeships like MBAs. This appears to be coming at the direct expense of Level 2 apprenticeships and younger people not on academic courses. 

“I would encourage Gavin Williamson to go back to basics and ask three fundamental questions of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education: What are apprenticeships for? Who are they for? And, how should they be funded in future? Once there is crystal clear clarity on these points, it will be possible to secure a consensus amongst business and stakeholders about the best way forward. I would like to see public funding and the Levy repurposed towards younger people, with standards being fully funded between Levels 2 and 5. The higher education loans budget should pick up the cost of all degree-level apprenticeships and MBAs, including asking individuals and employers to make additional co-payment type contributions where the personal gain in terms of wage progression is self-evident.”

Adrian Anderson, Chief Executive, University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC), said:

“UVAC welcomes the review, but in our response to the Institute, Department of Education and Treasury we will be making clear that this should be undertaken as part of a broader review of Apprenticeship funding and the operation of the levy.

“We also believe that the review should be conducted on the basis of the evidence and the impact the Senior Leader Degree Apprenticeship is and could have on the two policy objectives of Apprenticeship:

  1. Increasing productivity, and
  2. Enhancing opportunities for social mobility

“Apprenticeship has moved from being an intermediary and provider led programme with little focus on skills gaps and shortages to a high quality employer led programme where Apprenticeship is focused on the real skills needs of employers and the UK economy.  This success should be celebrated.”

Ian Pretty, Chief Executive, Collab Group, said:

“We welcome that the Education Secretary has asked IFATE to review the Senior Leader Master’s Degree Apprenticeship standard. Mr Williamson is correct to question whether the levy should  “be used to pay for staff, who are often already highly qualified and highly paid, to receive an MBA.”

“At a time where smaller employers are struggling to access apprenticeship funding, and starts for intermediate apprenticeships have fallen dramatically, the continued prevalence of MBA apprenticeships has contributed to the development of an unequitable apprenticeship system. We hear anecdotally that MBA apprenticeships have provided a ready mechanism for large companies to spend their levy, when otherwise that cash could be used to pay for apprenticeships elsewhere in the system.

“We need to strike a better balance between apprenticeships as a vehicle of opportunity for young people and a route to upskill those already in work. We welcome a review into this standard, and think it marks a step in the right direction.”

The full letter

Dear Jennifer,

I know the Institute and its Board share my commitment for apprenticeships to support learners to develop and progress and employers to build a talent pipeline and increase the productivity of their business.

I am absolutely determined to make sure levy funds are being used to support the people that can benefit most from an apprenticeship, such as those starting out in their careers or helping more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get ahead, and that we ensure good value for money in the apprenticeships offer. My officials will be working closely with you through the Spending Review process to make sure that we achieve that balance.

In that context, am unconvinced that having an apprenticeship standard that includes an MBA paid for by the levy is in the spirit of our reformed apprenticeships or provides value for money. I question whether an MBA is an essential regulatory or professional requirement to work in this field of senior leadership. It is of the utmost importance for the integrity of the programme and the apprenticeships brand that each and every standard meets our highest possible expectations. I am of the view that we absolutely need to safeguard the integrity of the apprenticeship brand and value for money of the levy.

Therefore, I am asking the Institute, as the body responsible for the quality and content of those standards, to bring forward a formal review of the Senior Leader Level 7 standard. You should ensure that the standard meets the current policy intent and rules, including the mandatory qualifications policy, and provides value for money.

I have every confidence that notwithstanding your range of priorities you will be able to take forward this review with your employer-led groups at pace.

Therefore, I look forward to hearing back from you by 1 June about the outcome of your considerations.

Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary

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