Apprenticeship levy could jeopardise employers' support for HE, report claims

The Higher Education Policy Institute calls for 'funding parity' between apprenticeships and employer-sponsored degrees

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The apprenticeship levy could drive out other forms of higher education supported by employers unless measures are taken to support existing schemes, experts have warned.

In a new report published today by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), Professor David Phoenix, vice-chancellor of London South Bank University, argues that employer-sponsored degrees provide an equivalent but, for many employers, more straightforward and established route than higher and degree apprenticeship schemes favoured by the government. He adds: "While there is much that is good about modern (including higher and degree) apprenticeships, they are clearly not a silver bullet for the UK’s skills and productivity issues."

The report suggests funds raised through the levy should be used to support established employer-sponsored degrees. Alternatively, more funding incentives could be created to support degrees sponsored by employers, it says, adding: "There should be funding parity between apprenticeships and employer-sponsored degrees to encourage employers to engage."

'Tried and tested'

Hepi director Nick Hillman said: "There has been general agreement for decades that employers should do more to train up their own staff. Policymakers are now responding by imposing an apprenticeship levy. But, unless we are careful, this could drive out tried-and-tested forms of higher education that are already backed by employers, such as employer-sponsored degrees. We must not throw the baby out with the bathwater."

He explained that one in 10 students was currently sponsored by an employer. "That is higher than many people realise, but not as high as it could be," Mr Hillman added. "Employer-sponsored degrees are a great way to provide job-ready skills alongside an academic qualification.”

Professor Phoenix said he believed that, in principle, degree apprenticeships were a welcome addition to professional and technical education. "I enthusiastically support them," he added. "But ministers must ensure they complement rather than disrupt existing employer-sponsored degrees."

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