Motivating factors

Why do people choose degree apprenticeships? A new report looks for the first time at the motivations of degree apprentices.

There’s a fair amount of anecdotal evidence around about why people choose to do degree apprenticeships. Much of this is reflected in the information and advice for prospective apprentices that’s out there: you can earn and learn while gaining a qualification; they’re a path to a long-term career; they help you develop transferable skills; you don’t have to pay tuition fees.   

To date, though, there’s been no systematic attempt to examine why people opt for degree apprenticeships.

Why should this matter? Because a more comprehensive, evidence-based understanding will help all of us working in this relatively new area of higher education to shape future policy and communications, and to refine the degree apprenticeships offer to meet the needs of apprentices and employers.

The government has asked the Office for Students (OfS) and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to work together to encourage the growth of degree apprenticeships as a means of widening access to higher education for underrepresented groups of people. To do this, we include degree apprenticeships in our targets and investment. We are also engaging with other regulators to remove barriers to delivering this provision. 

Building the evidence base

The report we’ve published today, by Wavehill research, is a valuable first step to improving our understanding about why people opt for degree apprenticeships. Nearly 270 current degree apprentices were asked a range of questions about how and why they decided to pursue a degree apprenticeship.

The survey found: 

  • For the vast majority of respondents (92 per cent), the top motivating factor for choosing a degree apprenticeship was getting a degree alongside earning a salary.
  • Cost emerges as a significant factor across a range of responses: both the chance to ‘earn while you learn’ and the attraction of completing the course with no student loan repayments to make.
  • Around 38 percent of respondents undertaking Level 6 apprenticeships would have opted to do a ‘traditional’ degree had they not chosen to do a degree apprenticeship. This suggests that degree apprenticeships are seen by some as an alternative to traditional higher education degrees.
  • A quarter of respondents surveyed said they would not have pursued any other form of qualification or training had it not been for the degree apprenticeship offer.
  • Ninety percent of Level 6 and 78 percent of Level 7 respondents tend to agree or strongly agree that a degree apprenticeship will help them advance more quickly in their career than a traditional degree, and roughly the same proportions think their degree apprenticeships will aid them in the roles they expect to occupy in their career.
  • Motivations for undertaking and completing a degree apprenticeship vary markedly between Level 6 and Level 7 respondents.
  • Age is a key variable affecting motivation, with older respondents citing factors such as retraining to keep pace with labour market skill levels, and younger respondents typically describing their degree apprenticeship as a way to kick-start their careers.

The report emphasises the essential role employers play, not only by supporting delivery of the degree apprenticeships, but also in helping to raise awareness of degree apprenticeships.

It also highlights the potential effect of negative perceptions of apprenticeships, which portray them as inferior in some way to traditional university degrees. The report emphasises the need to address this through provision of information and cultural change.

Next steps

Today’s report provides a number of valuable insights into what motivates people to undertake degree apprenticeships. It’s very much the start of the journey: as the researchers themselves make clear, further research involving a wider range of students and institutions is needed to help us understand the drivers and influencers of choice.

For example, while it’s clear that cost is an important factor for many apprentices, a more detailed examination of the influence of cost on motivation would help inform policy development. It would also be useful to find out why people don’t choose degree apprenticeships, as well as why they do. A better appreciation of how and why employers do (or don’t) engage with degree apprenticeships is vital. And a more nuanced understanding of the motivations of different groups of apprentices – by age, gender, background, ethnicity, and prior attainment and experience – would help us to improve the range, depth and quality of the degree apprenticeship offer.


Read the research report Hear degree apprentices' stories


There are no comments available yet. Be the first to leave a comment.
Leave a comment

Describe your experience of using this website

Improve experience feedback
* *

Thank you for your feedback