From education to employment

£12 million boost for degree apprenticeships to increase access and choice for students

men and women sat around a table at work looking at reports

The Office for Students (OfS) has today confirmed it will invest £12 million to increase the number of Level 6 degree apprenticeship courses and places available in English higher education.  

This is the result of the first round of a competitive bidding process, as part of the OfS’s £40 million degree apprenticeships fund, which will provide support for 205 Level 6 degree apprenticeship programmes at 51 higher education providers.  

The successful universities and colleges will use the funding to accelerate programmes to:

  • Expand course provision at those already offering Level 6 degree apprenticeships
  • Increase the number of students on Level 6 degree apprenticeships
  • Increase equality of opportunity within Level 6 degree apprenticeships.

Projects or programmes of work that will receive funding include:

  • The University of the West of England, Bristol has received £175,624 for six degree apprenticeship courses. The funded programmes include employer engagement and role model outreach work to increase the enrolment of women onto its Level 6 engineering and construction degree apprenticeships to address underrepresentation in these industries
  • York St John University has received £95,616 for five degree apprenticeship courses, which have been designed to address local employment needs in York and London, providing targeted support to improve equality of opportunity onto the courses
  • Bournemouth University has received £86,522 for two degree apprenticeship courses in nursing, which will help support the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. The programme will provide a supportive route for underrepresented students, including those from ethnic minority backgrounds and those from areas with low participation in higher education.

John Blake, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said:

‘Degree apprenticeships can provide a beneficial alternative route for students in higher education, which bridges the spaces between traditional study and the workplace. Our initial £12 million investment will support universities and colleges to accelerate their efforts to grow and develop these courses.  

‘We set universities and colleges a challenge to deliver an extensive range of degree apprenticeships that students from all backgrounds could access. They responded with a wide range of innovative and ambitious bids. This is a major intervention by the OfS and I am excited to see how the successful bids from the first wave of applications expand and enhance courses on offer to students. 

‘As these projects take root and grow, our funding will help universities and colleges to ensure that every student is supported to access these courses and harness the skills needed to boost local and regional economies.

‘We will invest up to £40 million over the next two academic years to increase access and provision of degree apprenticeships. This investment will encourage universities and colleges to strive to tailor and enhance their degree apprenticeship programmes to ensure graduates from all backgrounds have the skills, knowledge and experience they need to thrive in their futures.’

Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, Robert Halfon said:

‘Degree apprenticeships are a crucial rung on the ladder of opportunity and an important instrument of social justice. By offering people from all backgrounds the chance to gain valuable workplace experience while studying for a degree, they open doors that might otherwise have been closed.

‘I am delighted that the institutions awarded a portion of this £40 million will not only be expanding the number of degree apprenticeships offered but have also demonstrated their commitment to boosting access and participation and prioritising equality of opportunity. 

‘Whether it is providing more nurses for our NHS or helping get more women in engineering and construction, I look forward to seeing how these projects help more people climb the ladder of opportunity, address skills gaps and help grow our economy.’ 

The application deadline for the second competitive funding exercise was 19 December 2023. Universities and colleges will be able to apply for a third and final round of funding in spring 2024. 

Sector Response

NUS UK and NSoA expressed their excitement at the additional funding for degree apprenticeships, which offer a different path to university for people who would otherwise be unable to access it.

However, they also warned that without an increase in the minimum wage for apprentices, people from poorer backgrounds would be unable to benefit from the funding boost.

Commenting, Simon Hawthorn from the National Society of Apprentices said:

“NSoA welcomes any increase in degree apprenticeships. We’re especially impressed with the spread of institutions across the country, with colleges across the West country all the way up to University of Cumbria really putting flesh on the bones to the idea that degree apprenticeships can be a driver of social mobility.

“Degree Apprenticeships give young people access high quality education and a real job all without getting saddled with unpayable debt.

“There’s always a but though. We share the concerns of the Sutton Trust that degree apprenticeships are at risk of becoming the preserve of young people from well off families rather than the “engine of social mobility” that the Minister so enthusiastically supports.

“To make degree apprenticeships truly accessible, the UK Government must increase the apprentice living wage in line with the Real Living Wage.”

Commenting, NUS UK Vice President, Chloe Field, said:

“Any and all extra funding for education is welcome, especially for degree apprenticeships which offer an alternative route to higher education that allows for students to put theories into practice.

“Degree apprenticeships should aid social mobility as a way for people to access education without incurring student debt. However, many people cannot afford to undertake apprenticeships when the apprentice minimum wage is a mere £6.40 per hour.

“Like all students, apprentices are not exclusively school leavers who can rely on their parents to make up their earnings. Many apprentices live by themselves, and many are retraining later in life and have families they need to support.

“In order to make sure people of all backgrounds can benefit from this extra funding, we urge the UK Government to increase the apprentice minimum wage in line with the Real Living Wage.”

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