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Degree Apprenticeships report highlights need to boost productivity and social mobility

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A new report co-authored by Sheffield Hallam University calls for higher education institutions to work hand in hand with employers to embrace fully integrated, flexible degree apprenticeships.

The report Sustainable Degree Apprenticeshipsalso advocates policy changes including a revision of the mandatory qualification rule, to sustain the degree apprenticeship initiative launched by David Cameron in 2015.

It is part of a research project funded by education charity Edge Foundation and led by Middlesex University London with Staffordshire University, Sheffield Hallam University and the University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) as partners.

The research set out to investigate what changes to higher education structures and practices are needed for degree apprenticeships to be delivered sustainably and to identify obstacles to success. A survey of providers, employers and apprentices asked how far degree apprenticeships furthered the goals of increased productivity and social mobility.

The report concludes with 18 recommendations under six headings: Promotion and outreach; Resourcing and partnerships; Programme design and delivery; The workplace and organisational environment; Apprenticeship policy; and Access to degree apprenticeships.

Key recommendations include:

  • Promoting degree apprenticeships as a distinctive “brand”, not an alternative to more traditional higher education
  • Developing effective and active provider-employer partnerships that include involvement in programme design, integration of business and learning goals, supporting and monitoring apprentices
  • Designing fully-integrated degree apprenticeship programmes from the ground up, adopting a digital first approach
  • Collaborating closely with employers on a strategic approach to workforce development and maximise workforce learning potential
  • Policy stability for degree apprenticeships, while revising mandatory qualification rule to allow employers to specify inclusion of a degree where there is evidence that it will increase productivity and social mobility
  • To promote progression routes through apprenticeship levels, and build in “step on” and “step off” points at every stage

Conor Moss, Director of the National Centre of Excellence for Degree Apprenticeships at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “We need degree apprenticeships more than ever to support the economy as the country recovers from the impact of Covid-19. They will be vital in supporting the government’s levelling up agenda, addressing the skills gaps across various regions and sectors and supporting upskilling the economy so badly needs.

“Sheffield Hallam delivers one of the widest ranging selection of degree apprenticeships, working with over 400 employers to deliver courses in sectors including construction, engineering, health and social care and cross sector in digital/IT, leadership and management.

“We are committed to continuing to expand our degree apprenticeship offer, to existing employees and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, to drive future economies regionally and nationally and call on the government to support us and the sector in that commitment.”

Education Select Committee chair the Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP said: “I’m a passionate advocate of Degree Apprenticeships. They are key to fighting social injustice in higher education and meeting Britain’s skills deficit.”

“I would like to see the Government make it easier for universities to expand their degree apprenticeship provision. The process for approving degree apprenticeship standards must become quicker and smoother, and as this report argues, the places on degree apprenticeships and progression through them should be flexible, to ensure less advantaged and older learners aren’t left behind.”

Alice Barnard, CEO of Edge, said that “the development of degree apprenticeships is a crucial pathway to upskill the UK’s population. This report demonstrates the important role they play in developing social mobility and addressing skills gaps in industries ranging from engineering to digital and in public sector roles.

“The report aligns with our strategic goal for an education system that is broad, flexible and engaging; provides high quality and respected professional and vocational education; and connects education holistically to employers and the community.”

Adrian Anderson, Chief Executive of the UVAC said, “For an individual, Degree Apprenticeship offers a job and salary from day one where the Government/the employer pays the cost.

For the country, Degree Apprenticeship provides a new way to train the nurses, police constables, engineers, and a range of other occupations the public sector and the wider economy need. It is vital that Degree Apprenticeship continues to grow and gets further established as a mainstream higher education programme”.