The 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.

Fantastic example of #positivepartnerships @barnsleycollege @BradfordCollege @LeedsTrinity @UniversityLeeds highlighting the benefits of FE and HE partnership ‘sharing knowledge, sharing skills’ #uvac2017

— Helen Embleton (@h_embleton) 21 November 2017

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.

The rise of Degree Apprenticeships are influenced and linked by productivity, Ali Orr highlights #uvac2017

— UVAC (@UVAC1) 21 November 2017

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.

His analogy was flawed and rather narrow – #degreeapprenticeships can encourage #socialmobility for young people put off Uni by the perceived debt of traditional route #uvac2017

— Conor Moss (@conmossy) 21 November 2017

Social mobility is about aspiration to reach higher levels. Doesn’t stop at level 2-3 progress! #uvac2017

— Sarah Tudor (@sarahtudor12) 21 November 2017

Waited all day to hear loud & clear that social mobility is about robust progression pathways. Not limited to focusing on L2 and 3 #uvac2017

— Louise Doyle (@LouiseMesma) 21 November 2017

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.

Such an important issue. Pleased to see it flagged by @NicTurner2013 at #uvac2017 Recognised quals provide portability and long term currency

— Victoria Faulkner (@VikiFaulkner) 21 November 2017

@NicTurner2013 discusses how UG and PG study opens opportunities for career and global mobility. She raises concerns about removal of degree qualification being not in the interest of employers or learners #uvac2017

— Shane Sutherland (@pebblepaddler) 21 November 2017

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.

Employers complain of Gvt interference in #degreeapprenticeships – research from @NCUB #UVAC2017

— nicola turner (@NicTurner2013) 21 November 2017

Fantastic day at #UVAC2017. Particularly good insights on work-based learning and social mobility. Main takeaway – I don’t envy the @IFAteched right now. #apprenticeships #highered

— Jonnie Critchley (@jonniec409) 21 November 2017



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

Dame Fiona Kendrick sets out the role if IfA at #uvac2017 Clear about employer-led nature of raising quality in #Apprenticeships

— Victoria Faulkner (@VikiFaulkner) 21 November 2017

Reassuring to hear that @IFAteched wants to drive up Skills and increase national productivity #uvac2017

— Sarah Tudor (@sarahtudor12) 21 November 2017


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


When we’re talking about restricted resources we have to decide what the govt pays for and what employers pay for – there has to be a debate about who funds what in the future #uvac2017

— FE Week (@FEWeek) 21 November 2017

Food for thought from Mark Dawe on issues with EPA and quality processes, accelerated rush for funded places, and challenge to status quo #DegreeApprenticeships #uvac2017

— Shane Sutherland (@pebblepaddler) 21 November 2017


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


At #uvac2017 Nicola Turner @HEFCE suggests DAs will pave way for brave new world of more flexibility and more choice for students and employers

— National Centre (@NCUBtweets) 21 November 2017

Warning signs from employers that apprenticeships system isn’t working for them in the same way as promised, says Nicola Turner #uvac2017

— FE Week (@FEWeek) 21 November 2017


Adrian Anderson, Chief Executive of UVAC


Adrian Anderson @UVAC1 argues that we need to get away from an “FE first” system and ensure that ESFA and @IFAteched have a better understanding of HE #uvac2017

— National Centre (@NCUBtweets) 21 November 2017

And this is how Adrian Anderson UVAC says success should be judged in five years #uvac2017

— FE Week (@FEWeek) 21 November 2017


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


Top apprenticeship insights being shared in conversation with Rebecca Rhodes from UVAC and @conmossy from @sheffhallamuni #uvac2017

— UVAC (@UVAC1) 21 November 2017

5 top tips from Rebecca Rhodes @UVAC1 for providers getting started:

1. Resource it properly
2. Sort out validation early
3. Tactical employer relationships
4. Ensure smooth employer journey
5. Get on and do it


— Ali Orr (@_AliOrr_) 21 November 2017


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.


Margaret Farragher outlines key findings on progression pathways for Higher and Degree Apprenticeships in 2017 #uvac2017

— UVAC (@UVAC1) 21 November 2017

Highlights from @NCUBtweets @_AliOrr_ Research on Degree Apprenticeships #uvac2017 powerful partnerships, capacity to impact social mobility. Growth signs are good but enter an uncertain future

— Victoria Faulkner (@VikiFaulkner) 21 November 2017


By Ali Orr, NCUB Talent and Employability Consultant