Baroness Wolf: 'Apprenticeships and degrees can never be equal'

Apprenticeships must be viewed as a 'different' qualification to degrees, according to Baroness Wolf

Will Martin

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Parity of esteem between technical and academic education will never be "equalised", according to Baroness Alison Wolf. Instead, an apprenticeship should be celebrated as being "different" to a university degree.

Baroness Wolf of Dulwich, speaking yesterday at a panel on apprenticeships at Pearson College London, said that people should not attempt to match an apprenticeship with universty study. "To start off with that as the aim: in a way you’re sort of dooming it," Baroness Wolf said.

"One of the things that I suspect that almost everybody in this room knows, or thinks they know, is that Germany has a great apprenticeship system. OK, you may also think you know that there is no difference in status in Germany [between an academic or technical route]. You would be wrong," Baroness Wolf said. 

"I do not know of any country in the world where there is the same status associated with an apprenticeship route and going to one of the top universities to do a degree," she added. "So can it equalise? No I think if you want to start off with that as the aim, in a way you’re sort of dooming it. The point is it has to be different. Now, that doesn’t mean that it may not lead to some extremely attractive and successful careers, but it would do so because it is different. And I think that that is what is very clear in the countries that have really good apprenticeship programmes."

Baroness Wolf, who carried out a review of vocational education in 2011, also expressed her worry that degree apprenticeships reinforced the belief that "it's only worth doing something" to obtain a degree at the end of it.

"I have quite mixed feelings about degree apprenticeships, I have to say," Baroness Wolf said. "I think it’s a necessary requirement that it's possible to get a degree via the apprenticeship route … [but] I just have this worry that it just gives the same message: that it's only worth doing something if you have a degree. I think we need to see degree apprenticeships as apprenticeships…that’s the whole point of it. An apprenticeship is different."

'Perception is the biggest barrier'

Also speaking at the event, Christopher Achiampong, a degree apprentice at IBM, said that the status surrounding degree apprenticeships was the biggest barrier for him while on his course.

"Perception is a big, big, big piece around it … the whole status around [degree] apprenticeships wasn't the best, in comparison to graduates. You’d speak to people and you’d say, "I’m an apprentice," and it’s like, "I won’t trust you [with] work ... you're probably going to mess it up," Mr Achiampong said.

“There’s lots of aspects [to it], but I think, more so, it’s the whole perception piece. It was probably the biggest barrier for me."

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