Selling the success story of degree apprenticeships

By Professor Malcolm Todd, Provost (Academic), University of Derby

While it is pleasing to see attention turning to degree apprenticeships, the central message is that these programmes still need a far higher profile, which I, for one, am more than happy to give them. Universities UK’s report The

Future of Degree Apprenticeships acclaims the programmes as a “growing success story”, which we at Derby can attest to. Since we announced the

launch of our first degree apprenticeships in 2017, we have seen the opportunities both multiply and diversify. We’ve become trailblazers in

areas such as policing, nursing and teaching, in addition to the more traditional apprenticeship sectors, such as engineering and mineral production. Earning and learning is a real

incentive for young people: it’s a foot on the career leader, a skilled trade, a wage and a higher-level qualification neatly packaged together. Employers are acquiring

recruits they know will have the graduate-level skills and knowledge that adds real value to their organisation, supports

social mobility and helps diversify the workplace. Through our partnership with

Nottinghamshire Police, which led the sector in developing the first UK Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship, we have provided a new education route that engages with historically hard to reach communities for police recruitment. This has resulted in more than

50% of the cohort being first in their family to enter higher education, increased BAME participation in the training by 100%, and doubled the number of BAME applicants for policing. It also increased the number of female recruits to 50% of all new entrants. For higher education

providers, particularly those, like Derby, committed to delivering the applied, real world approach to teaching and learning, degree apprenticeships fuse the academic with the vocational and enrich our offer to students enormously. However, the slightly worrying statistic the report gives us is that four out of five year 10 and 12 school pupils have little or no knowledge of degree apprenticeships.

‘Earning and learning is a real incentive for young people’

It means by the time they are beginning their GCSEs at 14, and even their A-Levels or their FE programmes at 16, the option of a degree apprenticeship is not part of their career planning. Understandably, of the 24

recommendations made in the report, the one that Universities UK brings to the fore is that “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.” This is where we can play a

role too. Universities have invested considerably in their outreach activity and liaison work with schools and colleges. Many of us are committed to having a positive impact on social mobility and have built links and engagement opportunities for delivering the degree apprenticeship message. The programmes are also

more closely attuned to the need to fill identified skills and knowledge gaps in our region’s economy because they must be as responsive as any other role in a business to the day-to-day shifts in demand. And they have the advantage

of embedding skills and knowledge that the employer does not already possess. Degree apprenticeships not only hone the know-how of participants, but can help lift

82 business network November 2019

productivity and quality as a direct consequence. Leadership and management traits are also developed. Of course, with such distinct

advantages to speak of, there is the inevitable question of why they are not more prevalent. It seems they remain a poorly understood option not just for school pupils, but for parents, teachers and careers advisers. It is also apparent that many employers are still to be convinced that this is a route they are willing to take with universities. There is a cost - the

Apprenticeship Levy - to employers which have a wage bill of more than £3m per year, calculated at roughly 0.5% of their payroll total, although public services, such as the NHS, are exempt, and businesses which pay out a smaller combined amount to their staff have up to 90% of their levy costs met by the Government. Companies have inevitably

asked whether this is, in fact, an additional tax on their activity, and a cost they can do without. The role of Government and universities, therefore, is to take a two-pronged approach to raising the profile of degree apprenticeships. We must demonstrate to employers that the considerable benefits of higher productivity and meeting skills needs outweigh the financial costs the levy imposes on firms. The positive case studies our current cohort of degree apprentices is generating help us to achieve both of those aims because, as the saying goes, nothing sells like success.

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