UPP-sponsored research: ‘Easy policy changes can improve degree apprenticeships’

Degree apprenticeships may be good in theory but they’re not yet delivering for small employers or disadvantaged students – this is despite over 99% of UK businesses being SMEs and previous government commitments to providing a ‘head start’ for young people.

That is the key finding of research by the Higher Education Commission, released today and sponsored by University Partnerships Programme (UPP), the UK’s leading provider of on-campus residential and academic accommodation infrastructure.

Organisations ranging from NHS Employers, IBM, Boots and BAE Systems, to more than 40 higher education providers gave evidence. The Commission also interviewed sector leaders, such as Sir Gerry Berragan, Chief Executive of Institute for Apprenticeships.

The stark research findings show that certain prospective students are being cut off because they are in cold spots or they are disadvantaged (or, often, both).

The findings were released exclusively in The Times on Monday 28 February, and Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, responded by tweeting: “Real missed opportunity by @educationgovuk @IFAteched to properly boost Degree Apprenticeships, make them a priority and provide ladder of opportunity for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Smita Jamdar, Co-Chair of the inquiry, explained that “both employers and providers felt that there was enormous potential in degree apprenticeships” but that the current set up falls short of the government’s rightful ambitions.

Gordon Marsden MP, Shadow Minister for Education, also commented on the social mobility aspect during his keynote address at the report launch and said he was “shocked to find” that progression wasn’t written into the design on degree apprenticeships. He said he wanted “progression, progression, progression” and shared his concerns that these qualifications were not being designed with the student in mind.

Tom McEwan, report author, emphasised that the Higher Education Commission and Policy Connect were keen to work with government and that many of these changes are simple policy changes.

Professor Patrick Bailey, Vice Chancellor of London South Bank University, was particularly clear that deeper systemic changes need to be holistic and pragmatic since there are so many key players.

The full report can be viewed on the Higher Education Commission’s website.