Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK

Bold action is needed from government to reform the degree apprenticeship system so many more people can become degree apprentices, according to a major report published today by Universities UK.

The Future of Degree Apprenticeships report shows that progress developing degree apprenticeships in England is being held back by poor levels of awareness among school pupils, parents and employers.

Today’s report reveals four out of every five school pupils in Years 10 and 12 know little or nothing at all about the application process for degree apprenticeships, and only 7% know about these course structures. In focus groups, however, when parents and school pupils discover more about them, they are enthusiastic.  

The report shows all employers surveyed want to offer degree apprenticeships to those from disadvantaged backgrounds and to upskill their workforce.

In addition, the vast majority (89%) of employers say that degree apprenticeships attract high calibre learners and that degrees equip apprentices with the knowledge and skills needed in a rapidly changing economy.

The report’s four main recommendations are:

  1. Government should lead a campaign to promote the benefits of degree apprenticeships to employers and the public, including better careers information and guidance at an earlier age in schools, and UCAS should make the application system for degree apprenticeships as straightforward as it is for undergraduate degrees.
  2. Government should invest in initiatives to support social mobility, lifelong learning, and the growth in degree apprenticeships among underrepresented groups.
  3. The system should develop to meet current and future demand for higher level skills in areas such as digital technology, management, and public services, and to boost regional economies.
  4. Make it easier for employers to include a degree within their apprenticeships where they see it adding value to their business and to their apprentices, and the government should commit to streamlining processes and reducing unnecessary costs in the system.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said degree apprenticeships provide a golden opportunity to transform lives and to meet future skills needs:

“Degree apprenticeships combine learning in the work place with a high-quality education, allowing students to earn while they learn. They are starting to have a significant impact on sectors with skills shortages, such as digital technology, nursing, policing, and teaching.

“The benefits of degree apprenticeships to individuals, employers, the economy, and wider society are too great to keep secret. Government must take the lead in promoting these and in reforming the system so more people know about degree apprenticeships and can do them.

“There’s strong interest from employers and universities in providing degree apprenticeships, but the levels of bureaucracy in the current system don’t make this easy. It’s time to strip this back and put the needs of employers at the heart of the degree apprenticeship system.”

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, said:

“Students of all backgrounds should be encouraged to take degree apprenticeships, however my Committee’s report on value for money in higher education found a woeful lack of careers advice and awareness about the degree apprenticeship option.

"It’s high time the huge benefits of degree apprenticeships were trumpeted in our schools and colleges to ensure everyone hears of the opportunities available to gain high quality teaching while earning as you learn. Both employers and universities are beginning to see the benefits of developing degree apprenticeships and the Government should make every effort to champion their expansion.”

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Jenny Taylor, IBM UK Foundation Leader, said degree apprenticeships are important to IBM:

“Degree apprenticeships offer a superb new route into digital careers. Our business is dependent on the quality of our workforce, and we put considerable energy into developing people to have the right combination of skills for the work we do.

"Degree Apprenticeships are an important way for us to attract and develop high quality entrants who have future leadership potential.”  

There are currently more than 7,000 degree apprentices in England, with over 100 universities either ready to deliver or delivering degree apprenticeships.

Degree apprenticeships combine vocational training with academic study, with degree apprentices receiving a salary for doing four days’ work with their employer and spending one day a week in university to gain a degree.

Universities UK has spent several months talking to employers, degree apprentices, universities, potential applicants and their parents about how the current system could be improved. The views of 49 employers were obtained as part of this.

The student and parent research in the report was undertaken by NEON (National Education Opportunities Network) on behalf of UUK. Focus groups were conducted separately for students in Year 10, and Year 12, and with parents of students in both. 747 students took part in the online survey. Overall, 207 students took part in 15 focus groups. 80 parents participated in the online survey, and 13 parents across three focus groups in the south west and south east.

The apprenticeship levy is a UK-wide policy and apprenticeships are developing in different ways in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are new Graduate Apprenticeships in Scotland and Higher and Degree Apprenticeships in Wales. This report focuses on the specific development of Degree Apprenticeships in England.

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