Degree apprenticeships on the eve of the levy

The Apprenticeship Levy will be used to fund apprenticeships at all levels. No targets exist for the number of degree apprenticeships, but they contribute to the Government’s target of 3 million apprenticeship starts between 2015 and 2020.

The introduction of new funding via the levy, creating added motivation for employers keen to make use of their levy funds, is likely to lead to a small explosion in the numbers of institutions delivering degree apprenticeships.

Productivity gap

Employers benefit from access to an educated workforce, and many contribute to the development costs of those they employ by supporting continuing professional development, graduate development schemes, provision of placements, sponsorship, and numerous other schemes – but until now there has been no obligation for them to do so. The Government’s Productivity Plan noted a downward trend of employers investing in workforce training over the last 20 years.

There’s a close match between the first degree apprenticeships to be created and some of the hardest-to-fill graduate jobs, as identified by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. The country should benefit from an improvement in its productivity by supporting the development of workers that will help fill vacancies that are hard to recruit to.

This should help close the productivity gap the UK has witnessed with the rest of the G7 and the leading Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development states.


Employers will play a greater part in developing the workforce they need through apprenticeships. The employers involved with degree apprenticeships at this early stage fall into three broad categories – large private sector employers, public sector employers, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The first category, and many of the second, are levy payers who would otherwise lose access to their unused levy funds after 24 months. For the public sector, there is also the requirement for 2.3 per cent of the workforce to be apprentices.

Many SMEs will wish to employ apprentices, and take advantage of the opportunity to have the cost of apprenticeship training supported by the levy funds. For non-levy-paying SMEs, 90 per cent of the costs of training are funded by the Government. The majority of apprenticeships have historically taken place in SMEs, and they will understand this agenda well.

New ways of working

HEFCE allocated £4.5 million to a number of higher education providers to support the development of new degree apprenticeships and prepare for the increase in demand from employers.

A total of 18 projects are being given funds, together supporting the work of 25 higher education institutions and 20 further education colleges. These will develop a wide range of degree apprenticeships that will start delivery in 2017-18, and range from roles in the public sector, such as nursing, healthcare, and policing, to those that apply to a wide range of organisations, like digital and technology solutions or chartered management, as well as those geared towards particular industries, like surveying or engineering.

140 degree apprenticeship courses developed with this funding are targeted for delivery from September 2017.

The experiences of the funded institutions will be shared by many. These include gaining an understanding of emerging Skill Funding Agency systems, adopting Trailblazer standards, and devising programmes that meet these and their employer partners’ requirements.

The institutions are working with employers to identify which roles in their organisations could be supported with apprenticeships. Funding is being used to develop new pedagogies, align provision with wider regional aspirations, build up institutional capacity to support the growth of degree apprenticeships, increase outreach activities with employers and develop new provision in a broad range of subjects.

Considering the handful of institutions that were delivering degree apprenticeships at the beginning of the academic year, the sector should congratulate itself on how much it has achieved already through showing a collective willingness to get involved and seek positive solutions.

See more information on degree apprenticeships