Funding apprenticeships - have your say

Last Friday saw a raft of announcements that will affect higher education providers planning to offer degree apprenticeships.

These include the proposed new funding model for apprenticeships, further details on the levy that will affect levy payers, non-levy payers and providers of apprenticeship training and assessment in England, and the introduction of a new register that all apprenticeship providers must apply for.

TES reports a mixed response with the CBI slamming the decision to go ahead with the introduction of the levy in April 2017.

They reason that a delay would ease post-referendum economic uncertainty – employers, they say, are not ready for the change – and give time to negotiate wider use of the levy to include other forms of training.

Some employers have taken a deliberate decision to watch and wait. In reality, they still have plenty of time to prepare for the first levy payment in 1 April 2017.

By contrast, Frances O’Grady of the TUC welcomed this ‘much needed certainty’ and applauded the proposal to allow employers to transfer 10 per cent of their levy allowance to their supply chain.

What’s on the table?

It seems to me that through this guidance, Government demonstrate that they have been listening to the concerns put forward strongly by employers and providers.

These are very much framed as ‘proposals’, and have a short deadline for feedback by 5 September.

Pushed for time? In that case, here are some of the proposals that affect higher education providers:

1. Holding back levy funds

There is a proposal to hold back 20 per cent of levy funds until a degree apprenticeship is completed.

This is to encourage high completion rates. Still, it sounds high. Give your view in the survey.

2. Learners with prior qualifications can be funded

Confirmation that learners with prior qualifications can be funded to undertake an apprenticeship at the same or lower level to acquire substantive new skills.

This may be important for anyone offering degree apprenticeships in teaching, nursing or other occupations, which may attract mature learners, existing workforce or career changers.

3. Generous co-investment

A generous model of co-investment is proposed. Non-levy paying employers will contribute 10 per cent and Government put in 90 per cent towards the cost of apprenticeship training and assessment.

Indications are that the Skills Funding Agency will be looking for providers to bid for allocations against this model as early as this autumn.

4. Transferring a portion of the levy to other employers in the supply chain

Responding to a request from many large employers the proposals will allow employers to transfer a portion of their levy to other employers in their supply chain.

The guidance sets out a proposed limit of 10 per cent of the total levy pot that could be ‘trickled down’ for use by supply chain organisations to spend on apprenticeship training from 2018. Several providers have told us they would like to use this option.

5. Charges for degree apprenticeships

What is the maximum charge for a degree apprenticeship? Proposed funding bands for apprenticeships are now published. Check the Standards spreadsheet for the proposed funding rates from May 2017.

The Level 6 and 7 apprenticeships we looked at were mostly sticking to the current £27,000 maximum funding rate, but we spotted at least one proposed at a lower cap (for example, £24,000 Level 6 Electronic Systems Design and Development Engineer).

The Skills Funding Agency say that lots of factors were taken into account when pricing such as Trailblazer estimated costs, actual prices, level and nature of training on offer. The SFA say they are expecting employers to negotiate on price and so there is no lower limit. They want to hear from anyone who thinks the pricing bands are wrong.

New Register for Apprenticeship Training Providers

To deliver degree apprenticeships all Providers will need to be accepted onto a new Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP, catchy, eh?).

The register will provide specific assurance to employers seeking an apprenticeship provider. It aims to create a significant change in the provider base, increasing the range of higher education providers and enabling employers to deliver their own training.

There will be no automatic transfer from the SFA’s Register of Training Organisations (RoTO). Everyone will need to make a fresh application.

We know many in the higher education sector have battled with a RoTO application recently, so we are working hard with the Skills Funding Agency to make this a smoother experience.

We are doing three things:

  • Negotiating with the Skills Funding Agency around exemptions for higher education providers in the application form. This aims to reduce duplication where data is already collected and assured by HEFCE. We can report good progress, but every applicant will need to complete some sections.
  • Collaborating with the Skills Funding Agency on HE-friendly guidance, briefings and webinars, and funding the University Vocational Awards Council to support providers with applications.
  • Holding a small focus group for higher education institutions on Friday 26 August at the Skills Funding Agency to discuss the register proposals, and how we can get the implementation right. To attend please email Anna.McMahon@sfa.bis.gov.uk

Eligibility to apply for the register is different – under these proposals intermediary bodies will not be eligible to apply.

This could affect providers of higher education who have developed successful models for delivering apprenticeships that include private providers, further education colleges or employers. If you are involved in sub-contracting any element of apprenticeships delivery we recommend you review the proposals.

We suspect the new register may open for applications as early as October and it’s possible this first window may only last for 30 days.

Yes, it’s a drag, but it’s not all bad. The register will create a greater level of exposure for apprenticeship providers. It will make it easier for levy payers and non-levy payers to find a vetted provider, and set a high bar for future providers to meet.

Providers on the register will appear on the soon to be launched Digital Apprenticeship Service where all employers will search for apprenticeship training, and the means by which levy paying employers will select and pay for their apprenticeship training.

We’ve only got until 5 September to comment on all of these proposals. Have your say on the funding proposals and the register by completing the two short surveys:

Feedback will influence decisions which will be announced in October 2016. Further announcements will follow alongside the unveiling of the Digital Apprenticeships Service in December 2016.