Degree apprenticeships were launched in 2015, but although they’ve had a slow start, they’re actually outperforming apprenticeships at other levels.  

Higher and degree programmes only make up 0.4% of apprenticeships. But even though the numbers are low, they seem to have avoided the recent slump in starts. Intermediate and advanced apprenticeships have suffered a 26.4% decrease, but higher apprenticeships have had a 25.4% increase! 

The most popular degree apprenticeships are Chartered Manager with 34% of starts, and Digital and Technology Solutions Professional with 29%. 

Degree apprenticeships are becoming more popular, but there’s a disparity in the student population. Just over half (54%) of degree apprentices come from areas with high educational advantage, while only 30% come from underrepresented areas. The stats are skewed the other way for intermediate and advanced apprenticeships.  

So it’s a tale of 2 halves really. Degree apprenticeships are getting more popular, but take up is slow in deprived areas. Part of the problem is awareness. Only 20% of parents have ever heard of degree apprenticeships – and this percentage drops in families from disadvantaged backgrounds. Affluent parents are 2.5 times more likely to know about them, which is bad news for less privileged school leavers.  

Degree apprenticeships give students the opportunity to gain a higher qualification without accruing the massive student debt of traditional university graduates. Apprentices learn on the job and gain vital work experience while they train. They’re a fantastic option for everyone, especially less-privileged families that are most likely to benefit from the earn-while-you-learn approach – but people just don’t know degree apprenticeships are out there. 

It’s ironic really. Before the reforms of recent years, apprenticeships were seen as ‘working class’ courses. But now there’s a higher-education option, the middle classes are the ones benefitting. Degree apprenticeships were designed to level the playing field and give all students the opportunity to study without the financial burden.  

Taking all this into account, the question is: ‘are degree apprenticeships a success?’. Some would argue that they’re not serving all young people as they aren’t reaching disadvantaged students – but this doesn’t make them a failure. We just need to do more to spread the word about degree apprenticeships and how they benefit everyone – universitiesemployerslearners and the UK as a whole.  

If everyone knew how important degree apprenticeships are for social mobility, recruitment, retention and skill development, starts would surely increase even more. More employers and universities would offer degree apprenticeships and more young people could take advantage of the opportunity – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.  

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