The recent CMI-commissioned Degree Apprenticeship survey, carried out by Populus, makes interesting reading.

It seems that, 83% of the 1003 parents interviewed would, if in their child's position, prefer to take a Degree Apprenticeship with a major company over going to Oxbridge. They also believe a Degree Apprenticeship will offer better job prospects than a traditional university degree.

With the average graduate allegedly shouldering the burden of a £40,000 debt, this is clearly a factor that contributes to these findings.

But the research also found that parents are similarly thinking about long-term employment prospects. They recognise the significant benefits that a combined practical and academic route offers in terms of life experiences that can lead to future employment.

Nothing surprising here so far you might say.

Despite the drive in recent years for every school leaver and their hamster to go to university, many of us have known that a proven ability to carried out work often trumps a piece of paper that proves a subject has been studied. There is of course a place for degrees and they are not to be denigrated, but parents are beginning to recognise other options.

Lessons for FE

I believe the real lesson for FE comes in some of the other findings the research uncovered. We might think that Degree Apprenticeships are now well recognised and accepted as part of the FE scene. That might be true within the sector, but the majority of parents interviewed were not as aware of the options available as we'd perhaps like to think.

Awareness of Degree Apprenticeships amongst the parents interviewed is incredibly low. It stands at just 13%; with fewer than half of parents feeling confident that they knew where to find further information.

Teachers not trusted

Fewer than half of parents interviewed trusted teachers to promote apprenticeships equably with traditional degrees.

Combatting the knowledge gap

With teachers not trusted, and a huge awareness problem, FE urgently needs to inform parents in an impartial way. As providers of both HE and apprenticeships the sector has the opportunity to play the even-handed broker.

But there is a rub. Budgets are tight and it would be extremely wasteful of both staff time and budgets if each provider launched separate awareness campaigns. Parents would become even more confused and the trust they have in the FE sector would be eroded if the temptation to promote a provider and/or courses prevailed. So many providers claim to be the best, world class etc. and the public are wise to self-aggrandisement.

Degree Apprenticeships, Area Reviews & LEPs

I believe a more cost effective; impartial, awareness campaign is needed. There may be a role for LEPs to raise awareness. After all they have a vested interest.

But Area Reviews prompt me to once again think outside of LEPs and individual colleges and propose some new thinking. I believe it is time that regions (and a region may have several definitions depending on geography, providers, and other factors) took on the challenge of producing a focused IAG campaign that provides facts about the options rather than reasons to choose a particular provider or programme area. Certainly LEPs could assume this role, but I have yet to be persuaded other than it should be FE led.

The writing is on the wall

For years we have competed within the sector. Provider against provider. All vying for growth. The FE commissioner has made it clear that this must stop.

Our real competitors aren't other providers. It is schools, universities and uninformed parents.
Degree Apprenticeships provide a chance for the FE sector to pull together, demonstrate our worth to government and provide our customers with good quality information, high quality training plus access to major employers. If we don't read the writing on the wall the consequences will be dire and more control and funding will be wrest from the sector.

Marketing consultant Stefan Drew was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and now works with colleges, universities and private providers throughout the UK, Europe and the US - visit: www.StefanDrew.com and http://www.providermastermind.com

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