Disadvantaged areas are at risk of being left behind by the growth of degree apprenticeships, according to a new report.
According to Degree Apprenticeships: Up to Standard?, launched by Policy Connect and the Higher Education Commission today, “degree apprenticeship cold spots” could be emerging in areas of severe educational and economic disadvantage, meaning that prospective apprentices have to travel significant distances to access opportunities.
After collecting data from the government’s Find an Apprenticeship website and analysing locations of degree apprenticeship vacancies, the commission mapped these opportunities against the top 20 education and employment "cold spots" in the country as identified by the Learning and Work Institute and the top "hot spots".
A separate report from the Social Mobility Commission published today suggests that training funds for specific groups, including older men, should be ring-fenced.
'Dearth of vacancies'
"The Higher Education Commission identified consistencies between employer and educational cold spots and a dearth of degree apprenticeship vacancies," says the report.
"This snapshot suggests that those already benefiting from educational and employment hot spots are also those in the greatest proximity to degree apprenticeship vacancies, while those in areas of less opportunity have to travel much further to find a degree apprenticeship vacancy."
An aspiring apprentice from Norfolk could, on average, have to travel 12 times as far for the nearest opportunities, compared with someone from Hammersmith and Fulham, the report concludes. It is calling for additional financial support for prospective degree apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds, especially those from cold spots.
Degree apprenticeships were launched in 2015 and formally combine study toward a bachelor’s or master’s degree with workplace learning. Recent years have brought significant reform of the apprenticeship system.
Considering evidence from employers such as the NHS, IBM, Boots and BAE Systems, as well as from HE providers and sector leaders, the commission also found that of 51 approved degree apprenticeship standards, 43 per cent have no providers that are delivering to SMEs – despite small and medium-sized enterprises making up the majority of UK businesses.
Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of degree apprenticeships have no – or just one – provider offering provision for non-levy payers.
'Lack of flexibility' in degree apprenticeships
The report also highlights a lack of flexibility in the new degree apprenticeship, saying their length could leave apprentices “stranded” due to the absence of “stop-off points”. This lack of flexibility is particularly relevant for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to the report, which recommends building in level 4 and 5 qualifications to make provision more accessible for those from disadvantaged areas and cold spots.
Tom McEwan, author of the report, said: “If the government takes seriously its commitment to driving forward social mobility and increasing productivity then it must act to ensure that degree apprenticeships are implemented in a way that is fit for that purpose, enabling small businesses and young people who would benefit most from the provision to do so.”
Jonathan Shaw, chief executive at Policy Connect, said now was the time to make urgent changes to the degree apprenticeship system, “so that we can boost our economy and jobs market”.
'Academic and technical'
Sir Chris Husbands, vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, said: "An education system fit for the 21st century must ensure the acquisition of both academic and technical skills. Students need that. The nation needs that.
"This report is clear about the potential of degree apprenticeships to make a difference, at the same time as challenging the current model of delivery. We have seen interest and applications rise significantly over the last two years, but, as outlined in the report, more work is needed to support learners. We need stable funding arrangements, streamlined administrative procedures for the approval of degree apprenticeships, and longer-term policy stability. Putting these measures in place will help to ensure the long-term success of degree apprenticeships."
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: "We are seeing more and more businesses and universities successfully working together to design degree apprenticeship programmes that give people the higher level skills employers say they want.
“Over 100 universities, including many in the Russell Group, working with employers across the country now offer degree apprenticeships. They offer a real alternative to a traditional degree, combining a degree with a paid job and training that is funded by the apprenticeship levy.
“To ensure disadvantaged and under-represented groups can benefit from these fantastic opportunities we set up a £10m fund in 2015 to boost access and provision.”
Recommendations from the report:
- Create equal access for SMEs by permitting HE institutions already delivering degree apprenticeships to big businesses to deliver for small businesses.
- Decrease bureaucracy and costly repetitive processes for employers and providers.
- Ensure standards are approved more quickly, are fit for purpose and flexible to future needs.
- Offer additional financial support for prospective degrees apprentices from "cold spots" and disadvantaged backgrounds.
- Review the barriers preventing SMEs from taking on degree apprentices that would help them to address skills gaps.