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Degree apprenticeships – update from the Office for Students

Published: 19/03/2019

Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education logoA new report from the Office for Students (OfS) reflects on progress around degree apprenticeships up to the 2017-18 academic year.

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% of their working time, and requires flexible learning modes (such as 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.

The government has asked the OfS and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (the Institute) 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 are Level 6 and 7 programmes that lead to Bachelors’ and Masters’ degrees respectively and were created to focus on areas where higher-level skills were found to be particularly needed, including in engineering.

The number of degree apprentices has been growing yearly since the scheme was created. To date, 10,870 apprentices are reported as having started at Levels 6 and 7 during the 2017-18 academic year, more than in all previous years combined. However, Level 6 and 7 apprenticeships account for a very low proportion both of apprenticeships and of degrees. Most degree apprenticeships are taken in subject areas relating to engineering, technology and business, and degree apprenticeships are available in a series of engineering disciplines.

OfS analysis of the demographics of Level 6 and 7 apprentices in projects supported by the Degree Apprenticeship Development Fund (DADF) in 2016-17 suggests that in that year around two thirds were men. This shows less gender imbalance than among non-apprentice students in similar subject areas, where women (who account for the majority of higher education students overall) typically constitute less than 30 per cent of learners. 51% were aged 21 or over and 87% of Level 6 and 7 apprentices were white, making apprenticeships less ethnically diverse than equivalent higher education courses. Only 7% of these apprentices declared a disability – again, fewer than in equivalent courses.

The highest densities of Level 6 and 7 apprentices were found in the North East (where the overall rates of participation in higher education are the lowest in England) and the North West, and the lowest were in London (which has the highest overall rates). This suggests that degree apprenticeships are successfully targeting geographical areas that are less included in higher education as a whole. The full report, ‘Degree apprenticeships: A viable alternative?’ is available from the OfS website.

The Engineering Council is currently developing a model for the recognition of degree apprenticeships. Further information for apprentices is available on our website.