Firing Up Interest in Degree and Higher Apprenticeships

This week our partner universities are promoting higher and degree apprenticeships as an alternative route through higher education as part of National Apprenticeship Week (4th to 12th March).

Designed in close partnership with employers, higher and degree apprenticeships offer students the chance to gain further qualifications while earning a salary, with tuition fees covered by the employer and Government.

Higher apprenticeships provide an opportunity to gain an NVQ Level 4, HND or foundation degree.

Degree apprentices can achieve a full bachelor’s or master’s degree within three to six years depending on the level of the course. A relatively new invention, they were launched by the Government in 2015 to help drive growth and productivity by building the high-level technical skills needed for the jobs of the future and boost social mobility.

The Midlands has long lagged behind other parts of the UK in terms of the proportion of highly skilled residents, with lower levels of qualifications and progression to university. Only 31% of people of working age in the Midlands Engine area are educated to degree level or higher, which is significantly lower than the national average. The Midlands Engine also has an above-average percentage of its working-age population without any formal qualifications – 10% compared to a national rate of 8%.

However, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills estimates that the East Midlands region alone will require an additional 214,000 employed graduates between 2014 and 2024.

MEU is well positioned to help meet this need. Our universities collectively produce over 136,000 graduates a year and offer 186 higher and degree apprenticeship courses with many more in development. These cover a wide range of job roles, from accounting and advertising to manufacturing and management.

With particular focus on working closely with industry to fill higher level skills gaps in the Midlands, we are also well placed to help develop and implement higher and degree apprenticeships thanks to our strengths in subject areas closely linked to the needs of employers in the region such as engineering, agri-food and health.

Working effectively with partners is part of our universities’ DNA and we have dynamic and strong relationships with a wide range of employers including Rolls-Royce, Siemens, the West Midlands Ambulance Service and Unipart.

Similarly, MEU members have a large collective student population and a strong social mobility agenda. Widening participation in higher education is one of our founding tenets. Our members are committed to providing access to higher education for all students who have the desire and the potential to succeed and they have a rich portfolio of activities, engaging with individuals and with schools and colleges, to achieve this aim.

Higher and degree apprenticeships are designed to encourage participation among people who may not want to go back into a traditional route to education, or staff that need to work, but can upskill to progress their careers. The possibility of being able to ‘earn while you learn’ is an attractive option for disadvantaged students such as those from ethnic minority groups, those from disadvantaged areas and some groups of disabled students.

Having said that, they are not without their challenges and degree apprenticeship starts have been slower than expected owing to several factors including the newness of the apprenticeship reforms and because the system is designed and based on a further education rather than a higher education model.

Notwithstanding the acknowledgment of these challenges, there is a clear commitment by all our partners to make apprenticeships work as the opportunities they provide far exceed the challenges – and we have already achieved some success.

In February Nottinghamshire Police, which works with the University of Derby, was nominated for an Apprenticeship Diversity Award as part of this year’s Apprenticeship Awards.

Nottinghamshire Police was one of the early adopters of the Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA), working in partnership with the University of Derby. The PCDA has come in as part of the national changes to police recruitment.

The force currently has 47 officers going through the PCDA training, 25% of whom are from diverse communities.

Many of our apprentices also have positive experiences to share, and for some the opportunity to enter higher education has only been made possible through the advent of higher and degree apprenticeships which allow them to study and earn a wage at the same time. The added benefit of not having to pay tuition fees has also been a genuine game-changer.

Skills shortages are a significant barrier to growth and for this reason our partners have invested time and resources into embracing apprenticeships and will continue to do so for the benefit of the region and its employers.