The apprenticeship levy, which was launched just over a year ago, has not been short of critics. However, educational institutions north and south of the border have also spotted the business opportunities provided by the levy, which has to be paid by all large employers across the UK.
Universities are at the forefront of this trend. To be able to offer apprenticeships, organisations have to be listed on the Westminster government’s Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (ROATP), which includes hundreds of private and public sector providers.
English employers pay their levy funds into a digital account, which they can then invest into apprenticeship training. This policy does not apply in the same way north of the border, although Scotland does receive a proportion of the funds raised through the levy via the Barnett formula.
Only weeks ago, Tes exclusively revealed that, of the more than 100 English universities listed on the ROATP, almost half had decided to provide MBA apprenticeships, with at least 40 courses scheduled to be up and running over the next year alone.
This move was prompted by the UK government’s confirmation in February that employers paying the levy in England could use it to pay for £18,000 per person doing an MBA apprenticeship. Total revenues are projected to exceed £26 million in the coming year alone. This represents around £1 in every £100 raised by the levy this year.
Now, it has been revealed that although employers in Scotland don’t have control over their levy funds in same way as their English counterparts, five Scottish universities have taken the step of being listed on the ROATP, allowing them to offer apprenticeships for English and UK-wide levy-paying employers.
These degree-level apprenticeships would be different to the apprenticeships at the same level that already exist in Scotland. The latter were launched by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) in 2016.
According to a Universities Scotland spokesman, the body’s members “are always looking for new ways to deliver teaching and research and the sector is excited by the possibilities offered by apprenticeship training and graduate apprenticeships”.
The spokesman adds: “Many of our members are already delivering graduate apprenticeships. Universities have been really enthusiastic to take up the fairly small number of opportunities available so far. The sector is interested in expanding this further.”
Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow Caledonian, Edinburgh Napier and Strathclyde universities are all listed as approved providers, indicating they may have plans to offer apprenticeships at degree level as an additional revenue stream.
A spokesman for the University of Strathclyde says that it launched its first graduate apprenticeship – BEng (Hons) in engineering: design and manufacture – last year, and two more will be starting in September 2018.
He adds: “All programmes align to professional bodies for competence. In addition, we have been running a modern apprenticeship programme for more than 20 years. By registering on the ROATP, our business and industry partners – which operate across the UK – are able to access one programme, be it graduate or degree apprenticeship, through one provider.
“The funding of degree apprenticeships will be in accordance with the standard, funding bands and the employer partner. The number of degree apprenticeship programmes and participant numbers will be agreed in discussion with employer partners.”
A spokesman for Glasgow Caledonian University says that “a strategic decision was made to deliver degree apprenticeship programmes in England to add to the graduate apprenticeships that we already deliver in Scotland – this provides a wider, consistent solution for employers across the UK with one education provider”.
He adds: “Degree apprenticeships delivered will be focused in business and management, construction and IT. We have three programmes that will launch between October 2018 and January 2019, subject to programme approval. More will follow.”
GCU London, a postgraduate campus of Glasgow Caledonian University, offers a wide range of courses and is also home to the British School of Fashion, the spokesman says.
A spokesman for the University of Aberdeen says it is interested in providing apprenticeship opportunities in areas where it has expertise, including engineering. He adds: “At this early stage the process is demand led, so the numbers depend on what employers are seeking.”
A spokeswoman for the University of Edinburgh says it is “committed to engaging with the Modern Apprenticeship scheme as part of our youth and student employment strategy. We are also exploring how providing higher apprenticeships – at graduate or master’s level – can add value to our current educational collaborations with industry.”
According to the SDS, access to apprenticeships in Scotland is open to all businesses, regardless of their size or sector. A spokesman adds: “In 2016, SDS introduced graduate apprenticeships in Scotland, supported by the European Social Fund. Graduate apprenticeships enable people to work full-time with an employer while working towards a degree with a Scottish college or university, and are fully funded by SDS.”
These apprenticeships are key to “developing the future workforce, meeting high-level skills needs in an ever-changing technological landscape”, the spokesman says.