Colleges considering their options with regards to degree apprenticeships will likely find the MEG survey results useful – and there are practical recommendations for Government departments and employers as well.

Based on information gained from telephone interviews during the summer of 2018, the MEG survey set out to capture the views of 17 MEG members (General Further Education colleges) and one non-MEG member (a Specialist college) concerning the delivery of higher and degree apprenticeships.

Most MEG colleges are now established providers of higher apprenticeships (HAs) – often recruiting several hundred apprentices each year – but the relative newness of degree apprenticeships (DAs) and the current availability of DA Standards means that only a few colleges have had time to design programmes, find a validator and recruit students. Most members who took part in the survey, however, are in the process of establishing validation agreements.

The need for both HAs and DAs

Responses to the survey suggest that colleges clearly view HAs and DAs as part of their continuum of provision to meet the skills needs of local and regional employers in a variety of contexts.

Colleges are honest in their reasons for delivering both programmes. While the programmes would not be offered unless demand existed, they also make a valuable contribution to college funds. However, all colleges make the point that without a track record of delivering high quality Higher Education (HE), the long-term reputational risk to the college far outweighs any short-term funding gain.

Emerging quality concerns

At the heart of many concerns is how to tailor essential academic elements of a degree into a work-based programme. All respondents are aware that as a new programme, the DA will be judged on how well it combines the academic challenges of Level 6 with the demands and opportunities of the workplace.

There is a concern amongst the respondents that universities, many of whom do not have the same employer-facing tradition, will inadvertently undermine the DA “brand” by not having the same familiarity with the style of learning and mutual expectations that are bound up in apprenticeships. While many universities will have experienced delivering courses to part-time students, few will have worked with apprentices.

Quality also lies behind the responses regarding the recruitment of teaching staff. The provision of high-quality HAs and DAs is dependent upon access to teaching staff who are able to deliver a programme of academic HE and to do so in the context of the apprentices’ industries. Currency is key: recruiting and retaining dual professionals is one of the main concerns.

Need for clarity

What emerges from the survey is the need for clarity – amongst college staff, in terms of who will deliver what, how and when, and between providers and Government in terms of the structures and procedures concerning apprenticeships.

In the midst, the ongoing lack of adult and school leaver access to informed and impartial careers advice, the role of the LEPs and a sense that Government policies are framed in the short term all add to concerns.

Recommendations for colleges

  • Ensure that internal systems and structures include all relevant actors in the college e.g. HE delivery lecturers, apprenticeship sections and Business Development Teams
  • Explore better ways to recruit and retain teaching staff with higher level skills and recent, relevant experience in the industry or profession
  • Work closely with employers in the design and delivery of Higher and degree apprenticeships to maintain their unique character and relevance to work
  • Identify the local market for HA/DA, including providing progression pathways for apprentices at level 3
  • Adopt a flexible approach to programme delivery and where possible assessment, recognising that employer needs and priorities will not always dovetail with academic concerns and demands
  • Ensure that the academic demands of the programme, including assessment, are fully understood by all staff involved in support, delivery and programme management
  • Thoroughly and realistically evaluate the costs of delivering and assessing the apprenticeship against the available funding

Recommendations for Government departments and agencies

  • Expedite the production of Standards to eliminate delays in the roll out of HA and DA
  • Promote HA and DA as an alternative to full time study, incentivising employers where necessary e.g. by simplifying bureaucratic processes
  • Recognise the “HE-ness” of the HA/DA by adopting a more flexible approach e.g. by relaxing the requirement for 20% off the job delivery when other methods such as on-line learning may be more appropriate and/or suitable in some work contexts
  • Protect the brand value of HA/DA by active promotion of the distinctiveness of the offer.
  • Provide clarity on quality assurance processes, recognising that traditional HE norms may have to be interpreted in the context of a work-based provision

Recommendations for employers

  • Be prepared to take a greater role in the design, delivery and assessment of apprenticeship programmes e.g. by supporting industry placements for teachers and directly supporting delivery by releasing employees to teach elements of programmes
  • Provide opportunities to integrate on the job and off the job components of the HA or DA programme
  • Actively recruit new entrants to HA and DA programmes as well as developing existing employees

The full executive summary of the MEG survey on Higher Apprenticeships and Degree Apprenticeships can be accessed here.


Published: 17 October 2018