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Life-long learning by new degrees;FE Focus

Modern apprenticeships are now giving top-flight academics experience of the world of work.

Liza Kellett, West Yorkshire Playhouse's head of development, and Hazel Elderkin, learning centre manager for Elida Faberge, have completed over two years of work-based training and are now Masters of Arts from Leeds University.

The women are among the first to qualify in Leeds TEC's top-tier DFEE-funded vocational training pilot - Learning Power.

Karen Roberts, the TEC's education manager, says modern apprenticeships, "the other MAs", are paving the way for lifelong learning.

"An NVQ level 3 is just the start, and we're bridging the gap between the vocational and the academic. We will soon have all MAs doing MAs."

The higher level vocational training initiative will involve FE colleges offering degree level accreditation under franchise as well as universities and business schools.

Learning Power, a joint venture between Leeds TEC, Leeds University and Leeds Metropolitan University, is helping establish vocational training lower down the organisational ladder.

The initiative offers a top-down approach to training which encourages companies such as cosmetics manufacturer Elida Faberge and the West Yorkshire Playhouse to offer modern apprenticeships.

Ms Elderkin, 49, believes the MA is a validation of a lifetime's learning in the workplace. "My line manager was my mentor and I mentor people lower down the organisation. I see personal development cascading down through the organisation, spreading best practice," she said.

To qualify for her MA, Liza Kellett, 33, took assignments to work into the small hours and at weekends combined her role as a student with that of a busy manager, wife and mother of two.

"I have found a new respect for these so-called 'superwomen' I couldn't have done it without the support of my family and my tutor, who came to see me once a month in the workplace, and my employer who accepted I would have to slope off from time to time to finish an assignment."

The employer benefited from a gaining a committed staff member able to take on extra responsibility at the end of her course.

Ms Kellett, who already had a first degree, has been promoted to head a small team which raises money from corporate sponsors.

The Playhouse has five staff going through similar learning programmes and is considering taking on modern apprentices.Leeds TEC intends to put at least 150 trainees through the Learning Power programme over the next three years, splitting the cost 5050 with employers.

The TEC is also funding 24 graduates on modern apprentice programmes.

Alastair Graham, chief executive of Leeds TEC, said: "I've always said graduates shouldn't be excluded from vocational training. It gives them the opportunity to increase their skills and employability. It's about matching individual agendas with corporate agendas."

Stephen Hoare

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