Education secretary Gavin Williamson has called for a formal review of MBA apprenticeships – days after Tes revealed that over £100 million of levy funds had been spent on the controversial level 7 senior leader apprenticeship standard.
In a letter sent today to Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, Mr Williamson writes that he is “unconvinced that having an apprenticeship standard that includes an MBA paid for by the levy is in the spirit of our reformed apprenticeships or provides value for money”.
He adds: “It is of the utmost importance for the integrity of the programme and the apprenticeships brand that each and every standard meets our highest possible expectations. I recognise that looking again at this standard may be unpopular with some levy payers.
“Whilst respecting the decisions that employers make about which apprenticeships and apprentices are best for their organisation, I am of the view that we absolutely need to safeguard the integrity of the apprenticeship brand and value for money of the levy.”
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£100m spent on senior leader apprenticeships
A Tes investigation earlier this month found that more than £100 million in levy funds has been spent on putting senior managers through master's degree apprenticeships, often MBAs, since 2017.
Tes analysis of Department for Education data on monthly apprenticeship starts by framework or standard found between August and November 2019 alone, there were 2,324 levy-funded starts on the level 7 senior leader apprenticeship standard – an apprenticeship where students gain an integrated master's degree. Each of these places attracted up to £18,000 of levy funding, which means as much as £41,832,000 of levy cash was spent on this standard in that time.
In a statement published alongside the letter, Mr Williamson said: “The levy funds apprenticeships for businesses of all sizes, helping people of all ages and backgrounds make the most of their talents.
“I am committed to maintaining an employer-led system, but I’m not convinced the levy should be used to pay for staff, who are often already highly qualified and highly paid, to receive an MBA.
“I’d rather see funding helping to kick-start careers or level up skills and opportunities. That’s why I’ve asked for a review of the senior leader apprenticeship standard to ensure it is meeting its aims.”
Gavin Williamson's letter – in full
"I know the institute and its board share my commitment for apprenticeships to support learners to develop and progress, and employers to build a talent pipeline and increase the productivity of their business.
"I am absolutely determined to make sure levy funds are being used to support the people that can benefit most from an apprenticeship, such as those starting out in their careers or helping more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get ahead, and that we ensure good value for money in the apprenticeships offer. My officials will be working closely with you through the spending review process to make sure that we achieve that balance.
"In that context, I am unconvinced that having an apprenticeship standard that includes an MBA paid for by the levy is in the spirit of our reformed apprenticeships or provides value for money. I question whether an MBA is an essential regulatory or professional requirement to work in this field of senior leadership. It is of the utmost importance for the integrity of the programme and the apprenticeships brand that each and every standard meets our highest possible expectations. I recognise that looking again at this standard may be unpopular with some levy payers. While respecting the decisions that employers make about which apprenticeships and apprentices are best for their organisation, I am of the view that we absolutely need to safeguard the integrity of the apprenticeship brand and value for money of the levy.
"Therefore, I am asking the institute, as the body responsible for the quality and content of those standards, to bring forward a formal review of the senior leader level 7 standard. You should ensure that the standard meets the current policy intent and rules, including the mandatory qualifications policy, and provides value for money.
"I have every confidence that notwithstanding your range of priorities you will be able to take forward this review with your employer-led groups at pace. Therefore, I look forward to hearing back from you by 1 June about the outcome of your considerations.
"I am copying this letter to Antony Jenkins, chair of the institute."
A spokesperson for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, said: “We will look again at the apprenticeship in question. We now have over half a million people in total on over 500 different high-quality apprenticeships at many different levels. Apprenticeships have a positive impact on the lives of people from all backgrounds.”