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Degree apprenticeships, why HE needs to adapt quickly

By Professor Damien Ward, Dean of Hertfordshire Business School

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | March 13, 2017 | Students

Degree apprenticeships have been described as a paradigm shift in the way higher education and vocational training are being delivered. And it is easy to see why. They are a key component of the Government’s pledge to create three million apprentices by 2020

But, for those of us that work in higher education, there have been a lot of ‘paradigm shift’ moments in recent years. From the Browne Review to Brexit via REFs, TEFs, and NSS, it has been a turbulent few years for universities, their staff and students.

So much so, one could be forgiven for seeing Degree Apprenticeships as just another headline in a series of headlines. Just another policy change in a series of policy changes. However, Degree Apprenticeships are different. They’re a big deal and we need to treat them as such. Especially this year with the Apprenticeship Levy coming into force in April.

The new Levy will fund the aforementioned three million apprentices the Government has promised by taxing companies with salary costs over £3 million per year. With its launch, the issue of higher level apprenticeships will again be the focus for Government and its vocation and education policy. An area that had slipped down the agenda a tad last year due to the political turmoil of 2016.

So, why are Degree Apprenticeships such a big deal? For one, they provide school leavers and, other potential students, with a genuinely cost-effective, alternative route to a degree. It is a route that promises no fees, no loans, a job and a paycheque for the successful applicants. And it will be down to the employer and government to pick up the bill for those. This alone changes the dynamic of delivery for academics, institutions and employers.

It is a route that promises no fees, no loans, a job and a paycheque for the successful applicants. And it will be down to the employer and government to pick up the bill for those. This alone changes the dynamic of delivery for academics, institutions and employers

For academics it means employers are going to have a more vested interest in the success of their students as they’re now funding the course. If the apprentice isn’t performing academically, the employer will want to know why. It also changes the ‘traditional’ university teaching model to a more vocational format, which teaching staff will need to become accustomed to. Long-form theoretical learning will give way to on the job practice, so lecturers will need to adapt quickly. These are just some of the perceived changes.

There is no doubt about it, Degree Apprenticeships are a challenge. But they are a challenge that should be embraced by universities. They should be seen as an opportunity. An opportunity to develop and shape an exciting new way of delivering degree learning. This is the market we now operate in and one we as a sector need to move forward with.

For the employers, Degree Apprenticeships allow them to transform how they perform by improving the skills of existing employees as well as attracting fresh talent. Due to the Government’s pledge, apprentices are becoming an increasingly vital part of business, therefore it is key area of growth that the higher education sector can exploit by working in collaboration with employers.

A strong relationship between business and universities is imperative, not only for staff and students, but also for the institution’s local and regional economies and even wider UK’s economic policy. Therefore, Degree Apprenticeships can act as another important link to bridge the gap between higher education and the wider business community. After all, that is one of the fundamental aims of Degree Apprenticeships, for universities to work closely with employers, design relevant courses and produce industry-ready graduates.

This is something we have recognised for a long time at the University of Hertfordshire as the UK’s leading business-facing institution and it is important that it is embraced sector-wide. We have worked in collaboration with key employers and industry to make sure the courses we offer are what they want and need.

The benefits of Degree Apprenticeships are clear for both apprentices and employers. For the apprentices they offer the best of both worlds, combining the academic depth and discipline of a degree with the vocational relevance of an apprenticeship. Apprentices will graduate with a full honours degree gained within full employment. But the benefits are also clear for universities. The Government has invested millions into degree apprenticeships and it is time the sector fully embraced them and the accepted the paradigm shift.

For more information on Degree Apprenticeships at the University of Hertfordshire visit http://www.herts.ac.uk/apply/degree-apprenticeships 

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