The vast majority of the people in the room were simply there to find out what degree apprenticeships were and whether they wanted to get involved.
Two years on, thanks to HEFCE funding from the Degree Apprenticeship Development Fund, we carried out a survey which shows that universities are enthusiastically and extensively embracing degree apprenticeships.
We received response from 66 universities, representing a wide range of institutional types and regions of England. Over 90 per cent of these universities are engaged in the development and delivery of degree apprenticeships.
We asked institutions for estimated growth; between 2015-16 and 2017-18 we see intake growing from hundreds to thousands. Chartered Manager, Digital Technology and Engineering are the subjects leading the way, all areas where there are recognised skills shortages.
There is huge interest from universities in delivering degree apprenticeships in a wider range of subject areas.
We asked universities about what they saw as the benefits of degree apprenticeships. These included developing close links with employers, widening and diversifying participation and meeting skills needs.
Barriers to delivering degree apprenticeships
We also asked universities to choose from a long list of barriers, falling into four groups: awareness of and demand for degree apprenticeships, the processes involved in delivering degree apprenticeships, the availability of degree apprenticeship standards, and university readiness.
In our initial report on the future growth of degree apprenticeships, universities highlighted the need to get academic staff engaged, to increase understanding and to provide senior leadership as essential to getting degree apprenticeships off the ground.
In our new report, Degree apprenticeships: Realising opportunities, lack of support from staff and uncertainty about how to deliver degree apprenticeships are at the bottom of the list of challenges. This demonstrates that in a relatively short space of time universities have adopted, understood and got their staff on board with degree apprenticeships.
As well as academic staff they have brought a wide range of professional staff to support their adoption. This isn’t surprising; universities have long-standing experience with, and tried and tested processes in place for, co-designing programmes with employers, supporting work-based learning, adopting flexible approaches to learning delivery and bringing together collaborative partnerships.
These are all embedded in the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education’s Code of Practice.
The bigger challenges are awareness-raising and embracing new processes. Universities have found that there is still a lot of awareness-raising to be done with both employers and prospective apprentices.
With their considerable links to employers and schools, universities have been raising awareness and can offer this support to employer, but more awareness-raising in addition to existing publicity campaigns would be helpful.
Getting to grips with new and unfamiliar systems has been perhaps one of the biggest challenges for universities. The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) has only recently been given the powers to fund higher level qualifications.
Its experience has predominantly been of funding further education and private providers. The systems of funding, data collection and processes around registering providers have been designed for further education (FE), and adapting them to the new reality of apprenticeships has been slow.
Universities UK, HEFCE and the University Vocational Awards Council have all been working with the SFA and the Department for education to address this challenge, but even now the main data performance indicator process for apprenticeships is still called ‘FE Choices’. The SFA and the new Institute for Apprenticeships still have some way to go before the system is fit for all providers of apprenticeships.
Standards are needed
Lastly, you cannot have degree apprenticeships without standards in place, which are developed by the trailblazer groups. We see considerable interest in degree apprenticeships from employers, which will increase with the introduction of the levy.
More standards will need to be developed quickly. Concerns have been expressed about the trailblazer process being complicated, slow and in need of better guidance and feedback.
The new Institute for Apprenticeships has identified this challenge and will need to address it quickly.
Despite these challenges, degree apprenticeships offer a wide range of benefits, providing opportunities for young people, meeting the skills needs of employers and reinforcing partnerships between universities and employers. Employers want them and universities want to provide them.
We are on the verge of a significant success story, one that will promote local opportunities and growth, improve productivity and contribute to the Industrial Strategy.