Last month, The Open University (OU) was invited to take part in the Westminster Higher Education Forum. Commercial Director David Willett was a speaker at the session titled: ‘Quality in degree apprenticeships – designing standards, ensuring comparability with traditional study and creating effective complaints procedures.’

He was joined on the panel by Jenny Taylor (IBM), Rob Wall (CMI) and Andrew Croydon, Director of Skills and Education Policy, ABPI.

The session gave David the opportunity to talk about the work the university is doing in higher and degree apprenticeships and its commitment to quality.

Our apprenticeship journey

The Open University launched its first degree apprenticeships in 2016, based on 50 years’ experience of distance learning and decades of delivering work-based learning, underpinned by high quality academic research and teaching. We have strong relationships with employers to help them upskill and reskill staff. An impressive 78% of the FTSE 100 have sponsored staff on OU courses.

The OU’s apprenticeships help address skills gaps in key areas, including digital, management, social work and nursing.

In this short period of time, we’re proud to say that in 2017/18, almost one in 12 of all degree apprenticeships in England were being delivered by the OU. Over 1,400 higher and degree apprentices are currently on OU programmes in partnerships with over 330 employers, large and small. Around half of the employers we work with are SMEs.

Higher and degree apprenticeships are aligned to our mission of providing education and progression opportunities for learners of all ages and from all backgrounds. The OU’s apprenticeships help address skills gaps in key areas, including digital, management, social work and nursing.

The importance of quality

Quality underpins everything we do. It is extremely important to uphold the degree apprenticeship brand and ensure that it remains a genuine, and well-regarded option for apprentices, employers (and parents).

The Open University’s Healthcare Assistant practitioner and Nursing Associate apprenticeships have been rated ‘good’ by Ofsted. In 2018 a DfE/FE Choices survey of employers in England found that the OU received a 98% employer satisfaction rating.

The OU’s apprenticeships are designed with employer and apprentice in mind. New content specifically designed for work-based distance learning, with an innovative, tutor-supported delivery model, is a mix that works for employers.

It is vital that our apprenticeships are of high quality, which adhere to the apprenticeship standards and regulations. The OU has experienced support teams with specialist apprenticeship knowledge and we recognise the importance of always having lines of communication open with ESFA and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.

Quality delivery of degree apprenticeships is not just about the provider, but quality of the relationship between provider, apprentice and employer. The OU works hard to ensure that employers are aware of the commitment and what support they need to provide, and that line managers have had proper training. It’s important that the right apprentice is on the right programme and equally vital that no one finds themselves on the wrong course for them.

Supporting employers to open up higher education

Over 330 successful relationships are in place, spanning the public, private sector and not-for-profit organisations, who are using OU apprenticeships as part of their learning and development strategy. Because of our tutor-supported blended model, we are able to support employers across a wide geographical area and in hard to reach geographical cold spots.

The apprenticeship levy allows the OU to work with employers to help further promote social mobility and widen their talent pool as a result.

The apprenticeship levy allows the OU to work with employers to help further promote social mobility and widen their talent pool as a result. The OU’s open access policy means learners don’t need prior qualifications to study with the OU – although some employers and regulators do set entry requirements – such as level two English and Maths. We ensure that both the employer and learner are suitable and eligible to start an apprenticeship and use the apprenticeship standards as a guide to put the right employees on the right programmes. We use tutor-supported blended learning to successfully help apprentices who need to develop their functional skills and English and Maths and these alone bring real benefits to employers.

Everything is focused to getting the apprentice successfully through the programme and working towards their graduation ceremony. We are thrilled to be supporting all types of learners at all levels from all backgrounds. Apprenticeships have become a key part of that mission and we are proud to be offering high quality learning and development to apprentices – who may not have otherwise had access to higher education.

Employers working with us are seeing increased engagement and productivity from a wider talent pool, with new and existing employees eager to progress their careers within the organisation and realise their potential.

Many of these success stories are captured in the case studies section of our website, where employers explain why OU apprenticeships are helping them make the most of apprenticeship levy funds and future-proof their workforce.