IfATE consultation seeks ‘clear brand’ for degree apprenticeships

The government-sponsored technical education body said assessments, course structure and the process for approving new courses need reform

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) today begins consultations on proposals for degree apprenticeships as the government seeks “a refreshed approach” that affords the fledging qualifications “a clear brand and distinctive characteristics”.

According to the government-sponsored technical education body, employers and higher education providers have together instituted almost 100 different degree apprenticeships since their launch in 2015, with courses recruiting over 20,000 new starters in 2019/20.

But employers have concerns that current rules preclude new degree apprenticeships in sectors where a degree is near-essential for career progression, the IfATE admits.

Some degree apprenticeships have yet to demonstrate a ‘best of both’ hybrid quality, which meant more work was needed to establish them as “a distinctive offer” to learners and employers, the consultation report continues. The Institute also seeks a new structure and assessment procedures for the qualifications.

Higher education institutions (HEIs) can respond to the consultation, which explores five proposals, by 16 September. The IfATE expects to publish its response criteria this autumn, with new apprenticeship standards expected for approval from spring 2022.

The IfATE said employers felt “the existing approach does not appropriately recognise the currency of the degree in the labour market” and that, as a result, “apprentices in specific industries and sectors may be placed at a disadvantage compared to their labour market peers”.

The time is right to look at how degree apprenticeships can give more and better opportunities to apprentices and employers
– Jennifer Coupland, IfATE

Office for National Statistics research predicts the creation of 1.8 million new jobs between 2014 and 2024 – and seven in 10 will be in the occupations most likely to employ graduates, the report warns. In graduate-level careers like teaching and health, where similar level 6 or level 7 qualifications are available, more than 60% hold a degree as their highest qualification, the report adds.

Rules could change to lower the threshold needed to approve the institution of new degree apprenticeships, the IfATE suggests – which is prohibiting new qualifications where employers cannot demonstrate “a specific degree in a specific vocational area is required”.

New degree apprenticeships should “fully integrate” on-the-job training with off-the-job learning so employers can have confidence the qualification infers learners have sufficient, proven on-the-job practical abilities, the IfATE says.

Firstly, the Institute will demand HEIs align degree teaching with an employ-specified occupational standard – or withdraw funding from those that do not. Secondly, to ensure cohesive learning outcomes, degree assessments and apprenticeship end-point assessments must integrate, which is not the case in more than half of courses, perhaps by allocating dual credits. Explaining its approach, the IfATE said: “The objective is to ensure that neither the degree nor the apprenticeship can be awarded in isolation from the other, with the EPA acting as a capstone for both.”

All assessment panels should have at least one member that is independent of the HEI and has industry expertise, the report continues, “to secure confidence in the currency of the apprenticeship certificate as a signal of competence”.

“As we recover from the pandemic it is more important than ever that we support more people to get the skills they need to secure great careers,” said Gillian Keegan, minister for apprenticeships and skills.

“Degree apprenticeships are a fantastic way to earn while you learn, gaining the higher-level skills employers demand. These proposals will help make sure degree apprenticeships continue to meet the skills needs of employers, and create even more opportunity to earn whilst you learn for people across the country.”

Ms Keegan has told MPs that improving access to degree apprenticeships for disadvantaged students is a ministerial priority. Equal opportunity charity Sutton Trust has warned that degree apprenticeships need reform to improve social mobility.

Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of the IfATE, said degree apprenticeships “are really popular with apprentices and parents” and “met a clear demand from employers”.

“With more than four years of degree apprenticeship experience under our belts, since the Institute launched in April 2017, we’ve seen lots of examples of good practice, which we want to make the norm across the whole programme,” she continued, adding “the time is right to look at how degree apprenticeships can give more and better opportunities to apprentices and employers”.

Read more: Government to slash number of level 3 qualifications

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