Interest in higher and degree apprenticeships has been growing over the last 12 months and has reached fever-pitch in what is the first experience of National Apprenticeship Week for many in the HE sector.
With the 2020 vision to create 3 million new apprenticeships[i] the government is driving up interest and the expectation is that universities will respond to demand. A range of policies and legislation are due to be introduced such as the apprenticeship levy, public sector quota, the Enterprise Bill[ii] and new legislation which will require schools to ensure young people are aware of apprenticeship opportunities[iii] to ensure the target is achieved by 2020.
For many universities the call to respond is raising questions about quality, finances, employer-engagement and more fundamentally, the challenges of working with a system which has been designed for FE. This said, those which have embraced the agenda, challenges-and-all are reaping rewards with strong employer relationships and benefits which come from being at the forefront of developing and influencing policies and processes as part of apprenticeship reform.
Staffordshire University is at the forefront of agenda, having secured an allocation of 175 apprentices as part of the Skills Funding Agency call for interest in delivery during 2014-15. This allocation sees Staffordshire in the top three universities with allocations and the University will end this academic year with nearly 180 apprentices from Vodafone and the NHS, studying programmes in IT, mental health, integrated care and acute healthcare.
It is important to raise awareness that this a new route not an easier route to degree level skills. The educational element is a fundamental part of the apprenticeship and one which provides the apprentice with not only the knowledge but the critical thinking, analytical, investigative and writing skills which will be required to operate successfully in employment.
The experience of working with employers to develop degree level apprenticeships has provided reassurance about the quality of the provision, with many programmes addressing the knowledge requirements of apprenticeships using the same modules studied by full-time undergraduate students.
At a recent event a degree apprentice was asked the question “are you a student with a full-time job or a full-time employee who is also a student?” – her response? “Both are equally important”. This demonstrates that apprentices have a fantastic opportunity to learn, implement knowledge and make an immediate impact with support their employer and university.
For many universities this agenda is recognising and ultimately funding work which has been underway for some time, acknowledging the role of the employer voice in the curriculum which leads to increased employability for students and the experience of university-business collaboration to deliver work-based learning programmes.
With the impact of the apprenticeship levy and requirement to provide advice and guidance for students, attracting individuals and employers should not be difficult, particularly for the universities which have already taken the leap to delivery. This is an opportunity which is not to be missed to make an impact on the future of UK’s skills needs and to address the country’s productivity challenge.
Sarah Tudor is Head of Skills and Work-Based Learning at Staffordshire University.