From education to employment

Priorities for ensuring quality in degree apprenticeships

Dr Cathy Kerfoot, Standards and Frameworks Manager, QAA

In terms of what QAA offers to support the quality assurance of apprentices and apprenticeships, our starting point is always the UK Quality Code for higher education, this is the core document in the UK that sets out the baseline requirements for quality and standards. It covers all students across the UK irrespective of their location of study, their mode of delivery, so as such it automatically encompasses apprenticeships that involve an HE qualification, such as degree apprenticeships. So as soon as degree apprenticeships came on the scene they fell within the scope of the Quality Code. It’s a sector-owned document, so we develop it entirely collaboratively working with providers and there are 19 expectations in there at the moment which cover all aspects of quality and the standards sort of mapped across the student journey and all of those will apply to apprenticeships.

What we also produce, which we published last spring, is a separate piece of guidance on quality assuring HE and apprenticeships and current approaches. So as the apprenticeship agenda began to emerge we were asked to provide some more information about the kind of how to do it, how these things play into the quality and standards requirements that already exist for HE providers and what exactly to do to manage that apprentice experience.

So we produced a guidance document and we worked closely with an expert advisory group to develop this, so that involved representatives from providers and sector body across the UK, a few of them are in this room so I can point them out to you later if you like. We worked together with a group and really we were looking at sort of highlighting key considerations for standards and quality and also pulling out elements of the Quality Code that were particularly pertinent for degree apprenticeship in particular and how those thing would play out. It’s important to note I think that this document, as with all of the work that QAA does, operates UK-wide, we’re a UK-wide organisation and we’re in the business of assuring standards and quality of the UK HE sector, which is a strong brand that we’re looking to protect.

And what that means for this particular document is we actually explore quite a range of different apprenticeship models, so we have the degree and higher apprenticeship models that are coming through in England, but there are also different models in operation in Scotland and emerging models in Wales and Northern Ireland. And what we tried to look to do was to pull all of that together and start to reflect some of the commonalities and also some of the differences and where necessary, their implications for quality and standards. So if you need to understand that picture, because I understand at this point that it does present certain complications when you’re working with UK-wide employers, for example, if you need to understand that UK picture better then I would suggest that this is quite a good document to go to. It is a guidance document, so it’s not formally part of the code at the moment, it’s very much about kind of general advice and guidance that supports you through quality assurance.

The third piece of information that’s sort of forthcoming from QAA is a characteristic statement for apprenticeships. So characteristic statements are a formal part of the Quality Code and what they do is they sit beneath the kind of principle level requirements and they unpick detail around what particular qualifications might look like, or particular qualifications that are delivered in a particular way, so that’s where apprenticeships fall into that space. They’re designed to reflect UK practice and to look at what’s there and reflect it back and in doing so, create some consistency across the sector.

And the sector and other bodies, including Government, expressed some interest and are developing this statement last year really and we are going to do that and our current plan is to start work on that towards the end of this academic year. The reason we’re not doing it yet is because of the nature of those documents, so they’re designed to describe rather than prescribe. They need to reflect back what we see and discussions with our expert groups suggested that we needed to see a little bit more evolution in what was going on and for practice to be a little bit more firmly established before we turned that into something that was formally a part of the Quality Code. But that’s very much still on agenda and it’s what we’re going to be looking again to do towards the end of this academic year. Again, it will be UK-wide in scope so it will pull in some of that complexity that I’ve talked about.

So what we’re doing in the meantime is a couple of things that are going to keep me quite busy for the next few months. First of all we do have a plan to update our current approaches document, so when we published the first version of that it was intended to be a live document what we could keep pulling in and reflecting practice as it evolved and emerged. So we published the first version in spring last year, we’re going to try and get an updated version out in spring this year. And we had a really helpful discussion with our advisory group just a couple of weeks ago around what areas the update might cover in greater detail and they include those things I’ve listed there, so complaints and appeals, subcontracting, recognition of prior learning. There was quite a strong message that we could talk more about why and how quality assurance processes in HE work well for apprenticeship and we’re quite happy to do that. And also to pull in some more good practice examples as they start to emerge. Happy to take further suggestions, so if you know that document and you’re familiar with the content, and you think it bears a gap somewhere then by all means come and find me over coffee and I can talk that through with you.

The second really big piece of work that I think has a significant bearing on the apprenticeships area is some work that we launched just last week on the redevelopment of the Quality Code as a whole. So we’ve launched a consultation that we’re hosting on behalf of the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment, they’re the UK-wide body that has strategic oversight of the code. And what we have worked up on behalf of that committee is some proposals for the future development that allow the code to be agile and responsive in a rapidly often changing HE environment, that can respond effectively to the various regulatory changes that are happening in different parts of the UK, and that also reflect sector views on how the code could be updated and refined in order to serve you best.

I think as far as apprenticeships go that redevelopment process presents a real opportunity to make sure that what’s in that code really fully takes account of the range of models and modes of delivery that are in operation in HE at the moment. Apprenticeships being a really solid example of kind of innovation and newness and we want to make sure that what’s in the updated iterations of the code really capture that and serve that well.

Responses to that can be submitted via our website. And again, we’re really happy to hear from everyone, if you work with the code everyday we’d like to hear from you, if you’re not very familiar with it but you have some good ideas about quality in apprenticeships, then equally we’d value your views.

Dr Cathy Kerfoot, Standards and Frameworks Manager, QAA

Priorities for ensuring quality in degree apprenticeships – Questions and comments from the floor:

John Robertson, Director of Education, Gen II Training, asked: 

Obviously nobody doubts your competence to examine the quality of university-based or let’s just say, classroom-based training or education, but if a degree or apprenticeship is not, if it’s not an integrated degree apprenticeship then as much as four-fifths of the standards could be evidenced by what happens in the workplace. So how does QAA assure us, how do you convince me that you have the competence and experience to quality assure what’s happening in the workplace?

Dr Cathy Kerfoot responded:

Okay, so I suppose there are two or three things that I might say in response to that. The first thing is just to make the point that I think sometimes it’s missed that many people in the room will know that actually that work-based kind of learning, the set up that we have in apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships at the moment is quite new, but many universities are very accustomed to working with work-based learning in lots of different ways and have been doing that for a number of years, and they will be confident in the quality of that experience.

A second point that I might make is that some of this is being worked through in the quality assessment arrangements that are being negotiated at the moment, so some of that is picked up there. What we’re in the business of doing at QAA is supporting autonomous providers to assure the quality of their experience and so what we would say, and do say in the code, is that it’s the responsibility of those providers, degree awarding bodies with the legal authority to award their own degrees to make sure that the experience of their students and their apprentices is of a high quality. And we are confident in the ability of degree awarding bodies to do that.

Dr Jo Watson, the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, asked:

I wonder if you could just shed any light on the role of the QAA in the external quality assurance of integrated degree apprenticeships, please?

Dr Cathy Kerfoot responded:

Yes, I’m aware that there is some confusion in this area in terms of when QAA might be involved in EQ at the moment. What I can say is that we’re talking closely with the IFA at the moment to work out where the gaps are and what we can best do to fill those.

Richard Lester, Programme Director at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, asked: 

My key concern in this I think is the emphasis, I’ve had no hesitation at all and no doubt that the quality of degrees will be consistently addressed, my main concern is this, apprenticeships are an apprenticeship first and a route to a degree and it’s more a concern of the consistency of the outcomes of the apprenticeship and being a safe pair of hands to the employer rather than the quality of the degree of the outcome and I’m wondering how that’s likely to be addressed?

Dr Cathy Kerfoot responded:

Well I suppose that’s where, relating back to the previous question, I think that’s where some of the EPA sort of element comes in, so there’s competency assessment and there’s assessment of academic achievement. And a lot I think of it comes down to how those different assessments are conducted and tied together or otherwise. But I think my sense is that that is covered in the structure that we have, there might be some, we might need to do some looking at each of the pieces and how they’re working together, but that that’s covered by the requirements of the code combined with the current requirements that would come through an apprenticeship standard.

Conor Moss, Director of Education and Employer Partnerships, Sheffield Hallam University, continued:

I suppose just in answer to that question we, universities have created nurses, doctors, engineers for many years who are competent, so I suppose this overlap, this isn’t new to universities. I think there’s particular aspects of this that we have to get right and I think there’s a confidence we have to give to employers, but aspects of this is what universities have been doing and creating people into professions with professional qualifications embedded into the degree programme.

Despite best endeavours to ensure accuracy, text based on transcription may contain errors which could alter the intended meaning of any portion of the reported content. Speakers have not had the opportunity for any corrections.

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