Degree apprenticeships are a relatively new programme offering learners a chance to work in full-time employment while also earning a degree. A degree apprentice’s learning fits around their work commitments, taking up 20 per cent of their working time, and requires flexible learning modes like day or block release, distance or blended learning. Their training costs are covered by their employer and the government, meaning that they pay no tuition fees.
Employers, universities and colleges have welcomed degree apprenticeships as an important means of developing and delivering higher-level skills. Nonetheless, they made up less than 3 per cent of the total number of apprenticeships in 2017-18.
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. This is in the context of the government industrial strategy’s wider goal of enabling 3 million learners to start apprenticeships by 2020.
Degree apprenticeships carry the weight of expectations of multiple stakeholders. They are expected, for instance, to meet economic needs and those of employers; to increase social mobility and diversity in higher education; to bridge the gap between different levels of qualifications; to create a new gateway to the professions; and to imbue a vocational route to education with the prestige accorded to more conventional routes.
Some commentators question their value, suggesting they are just an alternative approach for learners who would have attended university anyway. Others point to barriers which processes for accreditation and funding present to their development.
This Insight brief looks at the available evidence, including the independent evaluation of the Degree Apprenticeship Development Fund, to consider how far degree apprenticeships are meeting these expectations, report on what is working and identify where further development is needed.