What we’re doing to promote higher technical education and degree apprenticeships
It is a pleasure to meet you all here at the inaugural Universities UK apprenticeships conference.
I wish I could have participated in today’s conference, but unfortunately I cannot. The agenda includes several topics that are important to me, including degree apprenticeships and higher technical education.
I particularly want to talk to you about the role of degree apprenticeships in the ladder of opportunity, which enables people to climb, rung by rung, towards a good job and a great career. The task at hand is to expand upon these promising openings.
Proving to be a huge success, degree apprenticeships have helped many people get the education they need. More than 1 in 5 apprenticeships are now at level 6 or 7, and level 7 apprenticeships account for over 12 percent of the total. The number increased from just over 39,000 to over 43,000 in the past school year.
Universities UK and its members have worked tirelessly to achieve this remarkable success. I’d like to express my gratitude to Professor Steve West, Vivienne Stern, and the entire UUK team for their tireless efforts in driving this expansion in collaboration with you.
It is my sincere hope that you will agree with me that the Secretary of State and I are among the most ardent supporters of degree apprenticeships in the House of Commons. However, more work needs to be done to ensure that as many people as possible can reap their benefits.
The package of earning while you learn, studying at our world-leading universities, and working for some of Britain’s best employers is a unique selling point. With the potential for financial gain in mind, it’s even more compelling. When a Level 6 apprentice completes their programme, they can expect a median salary of over £34,500 (before taxes) with no student loan debt to repay.
The Steps to Success
I have complete faith in the “ladder of opportunity” I described earlier. It’s a way of thinking about what we need as a country, to get to where we want to go.
Opportunity and social justice
The ladder has two crucial pillars that hold it up. The first is opportunity and social justice. Degree apprenticeships offer an opportunity for those who might not normally go to university to get started in a profession. This is real social mobility – getting into careers which might otherwise be closed off. We need to reach-out to those with potential, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, and connect them with employers who value alternatives to traditional graduate recruitment.
A good example is the Medical Doctor apprenticeship standard, which has recently been approved for delivery. This will offer a genuinely new route into a profession currently dominated by traditional degree entrants.
The Department of Health & Social Care recently updated me on this apprenticeship, with new funding for a pilot announced a few weeks ago. It will support healthcare providers to employ these apprentices from underrepresented groups, helping to create more doctors that reflect the population they serve.
Strong HE and FE
The second pillar of the ladder is about strengthening Higher and Further education. Degree apprenticeships have an important role in widening access and participation to university. Many UUK members have built their flexible offers to serve employers’ and apprentices’ diverse needs.
During my introductory speech, I questioned the rationale behind colleges and universities that do not provide degree apprenticeships.
This year’s Strategic Priorities Grant, which can be worth up to £8 million, presents a fantastic chance to build solid partnerships with local businesses and create innovative programmes. I know Universities UK are keen to drive forward the expansion of degree apprenticeships – particularly when it comes to engaging with
References for a Professional Life
Career advancement is the first step up the ladder of possibility. The incredible opportunity of a degree apprenticeship needs to be highlighted and included in career guidance for young people. It should also provide advice on how to apply for a path where companies (rather than universities) conduct the screening process.
My office is working with UCAS to find ways to streamline the application process for high school students interested in apprenticeships at all levels.
The promotion of apprenticeships and the meeting of the skills demands of employers
The next rung is about championing apprenticeships and meeting employers’ skills needs. I know there are some amazing apprenticeship champions among UUK members.
But we need to look beyond the industries that have fuelled the growth of degree apprenticeships to date. There are more than 150 standards at degree level, and a handful of them have thousands of starts. There is untapped demand elsewhere. This might be in standards which have been approved relatively recently. Or it might be amongst employers who traditionally recruit graduates – those who could be tempted by the prospect of recruiting talent to shape into their ideal employee while they study.
Another rung of the ladder is about championing quality, so that technical education and training – including degree apprenticeships – gain parity of esteem with traditional degrees.
It is great the Ofsted inspections of Higher Education Institutions are so positive – 88% are good or outstanding. This reinforces my conviction that universities are ideally suited to deliver such specialised programmes, and the new policies being implemented by IfATE to encourage the greater incorporation of degrees in occupational standards will also be helpful in this regard.
However, there is still room for development. I encourage those among the 88% to delve into Ofsted’s reporting, and the reviews of Apprenticeship Service submitted by employers and apprentices. Only through continuous appraisal and improvement – and flagging our success to the wider world – will we build the standing of degree apprenticeships.
Pressure from regulations
With this focus on quality comes the question of regulation. Universities UK have raised this issue on your behalf and I want to thank all the UUK members who have also discussed this with us directly at the end of last year.
I hear you loud and clear, and whilst we will never compromise on quality, I am equally clear that want strip out unnecessary regulation that gets in the way of delivery. I recognise that being subject to several layers of assurance and intervention by different organisations is challenging for providers; and we continue to look critically at what we can discontinue and what we can change, so that you can spend more of your time delivering more apprenticeships. I want to continue that conversation and expect that we will have more to say on this issue very soon.
Lifelong learning and jobs, security and prosperity
The final two rungs of the ladder are lifelong learning, jobs and security. On this point I’d like to recognise the huge contribution universities’ degree apprenticeships courses make in providing access for older employees and career-switchers. Facilitating continuous career progression and getting a degree while in work is fantastic for social mobility – breaking a glass ceiling for those who can’t otherwise progress without graduate status.
I mentioned earlier that our data shows strong earnings potential for degree-level apprentices. That same publication shows that sustained employment or learning for level 6 and 7 apprentices is over 94% – a great indication that the apprenticeships you deliver set people up for prosperous careers.
UUK’s plan for growth – Progression
I want to finish by talking about UUK’s plan for growth. Greg Wade will be introducing it later this morning – so I don’t want to steal his thunder – but I want to thank him for sharing it with me.
I’d like to pick out an aspect of the plan that is close to my heart. If I may, I’d like to zero in on development.
You probably already have a good idea of how much I care about this. It is my opinion that people from all walks of life can benefit from the opportunities presented by technical education if they pursue them down a variety of paths.
A Levels to University or a Degree Apprenticeship is not the Only Path to Progression. Obtaining a Higher Technical Qualification could lead to a degree apprenticeship, and a T Level could lead to a higher apprenticeship. All that it takes to help people move forward and capitalise on their potential is the right support. And we can help by establishing the appropriate partnerships between businesses and institutions of higher learning. I know that together, through degree apprenticeships, we can transform many more people’s lives in this way.