Since the official launch of degree apprenticeships in 2015/16, there has been a sharp increase in young adults choosing this pathway. The number of degree apprenticeship starts nearly quadrupled between 2016/17 and 2017/18, and more than doubled in the past year*. This is despite the general decrease in overall apprenticeship uptakes in the past few years.

Looking at the latest official data on degree apprenticeships, we are left with a positive picture of development. In reality, the conclusions we can draw from it are minimal. While the latest parliamentary briefing paper on degree apprenticeships showcases the positive development in degree apprenticeship starts and highlights their distribution across sector, gender and geography, due to the relatively recent introduction of degree apprenticeships, we are still waiting for data on successful achievements. Until then, the DfE’s only measure of success is to count degree apprenticeship starts, which is a one-sided and highly insufficient measurement for success.

This holds especially true considering that overall dropout rates for apprenticeships are high, with over 30% of people who start apprenticeships in Britain not completing them (Skills Commission, 2017). The dropout rate for degree apprenticeships is yet unknown. Future data analysis will show how degree apprenticeships are distinct from other apprenticeship types, whether the dropout rate is equally high, and – hopefully – why. Assessing the level, stage and sector in which degree apprentices tend to succeed, fail, or decide to drop out, will shine a light on whether degree apprenticeships have the ability to add value, and in what way they may provide a solution to growing skills gaps, better access to education, employer’s future needs or improved social mobility.

But while we stand idly by, we can also try to make sure that policies like the Apprenticeship Levy will take into account the new information we will have on degree apprenticeships and use it to set well-informed, outcome-based targets. In 2018/19, 81% of degree apprenticeships were supported by the Levy (DfE, 2019). Monitoring the future success of apprenticeships cannot be based on apprenticeship starts, and neither can the capacity of the Levy. We all know that inputs do not directly translate into outputs, let alone outcomes. If degree apprenticeships and apprenticeships overall are to effect actual positive change, let’s be real about measurement.

Total vs degree apprenticeship starts

Source: DfE, 2020.

This article is part of a series of NCUB blogs on degree apprenticeships published on National Apprenticeship Week 2020. You can read the other blogs in the series here:

* Numbers for England.