The expansion of apprenticeships could reinvigorate the higher education sector at below bachelor degree level, it has been suggested, as new research shows the number of students studying at that level has fallen steeply over the last 50 years.
HE at below bachelor degree level is commonly offered by further education colleges, and includes qualifications such as HNDs, HNCs and foundation degrees. Some of the new higher apprenticeships, part of the government’s strategy to meet its target of three million apprenticeships by 2020, include these.
Research commissioned by QAA, the independent quality body for UK higher education, and carried out by the University of Sheffield's Centre for the Study of Higher Education, found that “over the last 50 years, sub-bachelor provision has been overtaken and eclipsed by the growth of bachelor and postgraduate education”.
One in seven
In the early 1960s, students on non-degree courses accounted for more than half of the higher education population, it explains, while by the late 1980s, the sub-bachelor share had reduced to one-third.
“Although it shared in the rapid expansion in the years that followed, its growth was slower than at the bachelor and postgraduate levels. Despite resumed overall expansion over the last 20 years, demand for sub-bachelor programmes weakened leading to a fall in student numbers. Today, less than one in seven are enrolled at these levels,” says the research.
It adds that no other part of higher education has so many types of qualification or so many providers.
But Paul Hazell from QAA said he was confident that the introduction of new higher apprenticeships would breathe new life into sub-bachelor learning. “Apprenticeships are giving higher education a renewed relevance for employers and professional bodies, as well as providing more choice and opportunities for students,” he said.