The government’s Skills for Jobs white paper was published on 21st January. The benefits and ‘bear traps’ of this agenda have been outlined by Halpin fellow, David Allen, in his blog a few days after publication.
The implications for universities are significant.
The UUK Degree Apprenticeship Conference on 27th January brought together representatives from industry, universities, education membership organisations and Department for Education sponsored institutes to share information and experiences about forming partnerships to deliver degree apprenticeships, and how to progress the technical education agenda for the benefit of learners, employees, employers, universities and the wider economy.
This means reform for the university sector in terms of forming new partnerships, co-creating programmes with different administrative, quality and reporting requirements, and welcoming new learners with different entry profiles and support needs as they learn with their employers whilst studying. Many universities have engaged with degree apprenticeships and have successful programmes up and running mainly in nursing, policing, social care and digital industries. Growth areas for new degree apprenticeships are likely to be in film & TV and training that will support a ‘nature positive’ economy as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and tackle climate change.
As well as providing training and continuing education routes for the 50% of 18-year-olds who do not enter universities to study for 3-year undergraduate degree programmes, degree apprenticeships will meet the changing skills needs of employees who will need to reskill and upskill as the needs of the economy and industry changes.
Reskilling and upskilling.
According to Joanne Reynolds of HSBC, 90% of the workforce will need to be reskilled by 2030 and the blended learning and training model that degree apprenticeships offer will become the new normal for employees’ continued professional development as they respond to the changing requirements of their jobs.
Viral Patel of the OU reported that in an OU survey, 1000 employers revealed that 56% experience a skills shortage and 61% are not as agile as they want to be because of this skills shortfall. They tend to spend their way out of this dilemma by buying in additional expertise but they would do better in the longer term by investing in education and skills development. Industry is committed to developing apprenticeships as they are the vehicle for keeping the workforce relevant.
The development of skills related to employment has clear benefits for industry, employers and learners. There are other benefits too: creating a diverse workforce and ensuring that people in areas of social disadvantage are not left behind meets the governments Levelling Up agenda as well as universities’ widening participation and inclusion targets. Currently HSBC diversity data on their degree apprenticeship population shows that 26% are from BAME backgrounds, 33% from areas of high social deprivation and there is a 50:50 gender spilt. Whether 18-years-old or more mature employees, these learners bring different and diverse experiences and needs to their interactions with learning and training and this needs to be understood and supported by employers and universities when co-creating programmes and this created some challenges.
Industry and education have their own culture, systems, languages and assumptions.
Work needs to be done to ensure that there is shared understanding of differences and how to create ways to accommodate them. Governance boards at strategic and operational levels can work well to do this and integrate the practical and the academic.
Undergraduate education pedagogy and systems in universities do not fit degree apprenticeships necessary blended structure and lifecycles. There is work to do to accommodate the requirements of degree apprenticeships into university student records systems and the usual cycle of activity to support the academic year. It is common for degree apprenticeships to be viewed as ‘non-standard’ and in terms of administration and support and quality requirements. However, universities are working to build capacity and systems to integrate the support of degree apprenticeships as they grow their partnerships and provision. There is a balance to be achieved between offering a structure that is workable and aligned to existing systems and meeting the flexible needs of employers and learners.
Degree apprenticeship learners have varying needs.
According to Manchester Metropolitan University, 80% of their degree apprenticeship learners would not have applied for a traditional 3-year undergraduate degree programme. Their learners need a nuanced, person-centred approach. Retention has improved from 78-93% by improving the pastoral support that is offered. They have practice development tutors as well as academic tutors who have regular practice development forums to share experiences and evolve their shared provision.
Information about degree apprenticeship opportunities alongside but different to traditional programme will heighten their profile and prestige with the different kinds of learners they will attract. Care needs to be taken to assess their suitability for entry at application so the focus needs to be less on UCAS points and more on potential to stay the course and the support required for individual applicants to reach their potential. This takes more time and different procedures than for more standard university programmes. There will also likely be a higher prevalence of specific learning difficulties (SpLD) in these cohorts of learners so some universities have embedded neurodiversity assessments as part of induction and focussed on accessibility and inclusive design when creating programme content and resources.
It is clear that degree apprenticeships and technical education and training are here to stay as a key part of the employer and education landscape. There are challenges to overcome to find ways for two quite different sectors to work together in partnership to provide meaningful opportunities for those who do not choose of feel that they do not have choices to study for a degree. Degree apprenticeships have the potential to provide a socially and culturally diverse pipeline for underrepresented talent into employment and provide industry with the skilled workers it needs in a post-COVID, greener economy.
Sara Doherty is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin, the home of experts in higher education.