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Why do so many Russell Group universities deliver degree apprenticeships?

The Russell Group represents 24 of the UK’s leading universities – the likes of Durham University, the University of Exeter and the University of Cambridge.

They’re a highly regarded group, and almost half of them deliver degree apprenticeships.

Since they were introduced 5 years ago, degree apprenticeships have really taken off. The level 6 and 7 programmes now account for 31% of all starts – an increase of 81% from last year. The most popular degree apprenticeships are in health, public services and care with 36.5% of high-level starts in the 2019/20 academic year. Business, administration and law comes in second with 32.7% of high-level starts.

We know why degree apprenticeships are attractive to learners. They give people the opportunity to gain a degree-level qualification and real-life work experience without accruing student debt.

But why are so many top universities delivering degree apprenticeships?


Compared to traditional graduate programmes that rely on tuition fees for funding, universities that deliver degree apprenticeships can access a whole new revenue stream – the apprenticeship levy.

When the levy was first introduced in 2017, the Russell Group universities collectively claimed around £1.3 million in levy funding for degree apprenticeships. In the last 3 years, that figure has more than quadrupled to over £8 million in the last academic year alone. This is a big financial pull for universities, which is why 90% of HEIs delivering degree apprenticeships plan to expand their offer in the future.

Out of all 24 Russell Group universities, the University of Exeter received the most funding – £4.5 million in 3 years. The University of Exeter is the biggest provider of degree apprenticeships in the Group, with 750 students currently on programme. They use OneFile’s apprenticeship software to make sure their degree apprenticeship delivery is efficient, effective and personalised for each learner.

Employer demand

Large employers that pay the levy want to use their funds to develop the high-level skills they need via degree apprenticeships. Universities are responding to this demand by delivering them. Degree apprenticeships also help HEIs develop strong working relationships with local employers, which brings benefits for all faculties.

In fact, there’s so much demand for degree apprenticeships that the lower-level programmes are suffering. Level 2 and 3 apprenticeships are receiving less funding and have seen a 30% decrease in starts in the past year. However, it’s these intermediate courses that enable people to get their foot in the ladder and start their career.

This issue is largely out of the HEIs’ hands, but universities need to make sure their degree apprenticeship programmes are accessible to a diverse student base to help people of all backgrounds gain the qualifications they need to progress.

Increased diversity and social mobility

Degree apprenticeships were designed to help people who may not be able to afford tuition fees or a break from full-time employment to gain a degree-level qualification. They’re a catalyst for social mobility and help diversify universities’ student population – which is something most HEIs strive to achieve.

Professor Tim Quine, deputy vice-chancellor (education) at Exeter, said: “Degree apprenticeships extend student choice in terms of how to attain a degree and bring a welcome diversity to our student body, supporting our long-standing commitment to widening participation.”

Degree apprenticeships bring so many benefits to HEIs – from increased revenue to improved employer relationships. It’s no wonder so many top universities have included degree apprenticeships in their offering – including the University of Cambridge, The OU and London South Bank University.

Over half of the top 10 universities delivering degree apprenticeships use OneFile to support their delivery. Even the biggest provider of degree apprenticeships in the Russel Group uses OneFile – the University of Exeter. OneFile is chosen by the top of the top.

To find out how OneFile works, how you can use it to deliver degree apprenticeships, and what other universities think, download your ultimate guide to degree apprenticeships.

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