Five take home messages from #UVAC2017

Five take home messages from #UVAC2017

UVACThe Annual Conference of the University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) began with the uplifting news that the Academic Professional Degree Apprenticeship standard had, at long last, been approved; and was followed by a lively and provocative panel discussion on the future of degree apprenticeships (DAs), with each speaker sharing their vision of the future. As ever, there was much knowledge sharing too in the margins of the conference. Here I pick out five take home messages from the day:


The power of positive partnerships

NCUB’s own research has highlighted the increased collaboration cited by both employers and providers, and the multiple benefits that accrue through partnership. Nicola Turner spoke of the ‘power of positive partnerships’ in her vision of the future, and this was perhaps the theme of the day, no more evident than in the workshop on the Professional Skills Partnership – a consortium of universities and FE colleges in and around West Yorkshire coming together to serve the needs of employers across the region through leadership and management provision from level 3 through 7.

Productivity and social mobility should remain the key focus for the apprenticeship agenda

Dame Fiona Kendrick gave a welcome assurance that higher and degree apprenticeships have a key role to play in addressing what is “the number one cause of the productivity gap” – poor leadership and management – in the face of recent criticism in some quarters over the early increase in these apprenticeships. There was also much discussion of the role of apprenticeships in supporting social mobility, including in our own research which highlighted that many employers share this aim.

Progression pathways are pivotal

While Mark Dawe’s assertion that social mobility is much more about taking people from level 2 to 3 than from say level 5 to 7 was contested by others, there was much agreement that coherent and flexible progression pathways are key to realising social mobility through degree apprenticeships.

Qualifications still matter

The removal of qualifications from apprenticeship standards was a key tenet of the 2013 reforms in England. However, there is concern that for degree apprentices in particular, the unintended consequence is to restrict future mobility and we are also hearing from employers that the inclusion of a degree qualification enables them to compete to attract talent onto the programme.

The Institute for Apprenticeships has its work cut out

Among the key findings from NCUB’s research was that employers share providers’ concerns and frustrations around the operation of apprenticeship policy, and they have little confidence in the IfA. So while the Board’s engagement with stakeholders is to be welcomed, there remains much to be done to improve efficiency and convince them that it is indeed an ‘employer-led’ system.



Dame Fiona Kendrick, Board member at the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA)


Mark Dawe, Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP)



Nicola Turner MBE, Head of Skills Policy at the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)



Adrian Anderson, Chief Executive of UVAC 



Following the debate, UVAC’s Rebecca Rhodes imparted some of her wisdom in conversation with Conor Moss (Sheffield Hallam University).



The final session saw Margaret Farragher give a useful overview of UCAS’ work around technical education and progression to HE, before I shared the findings of NCUB’s research into employer and provider experiences of DAs and the impact of the levy.



By Ali Orr, NCUB Talent and Employability Consultant

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