Since the introduction of degree apprenticeships in 2015, the landscape has changed quite significantly.

We saw the Apprenticeship Levy appear in 2017, the overall move from the apprenticeship framework to apprenticeship standards and the increase in opportunities (11 standards at level 6 and 7 in 2016 compared to 116 in January 2020).

However, there is a notable lack of a standardised application system – the sector dreams of a UCAS style platform – and the information available can often be confusing and a bit of a mystery. So, let’s myth-bust a few common misconceptions.

Misconception 1: Degree apprenticeships are just repackaged degrees.

It is a worry within the sector that universities are just repackaging traditional degrees as apprenticeships in order to capitalise on additional income. Whilst the apprentice will receive a university accredited qualification (BA, MA etc.), these courses are so much more than the title alone. Degree apprenticeships allow workers to gain practical workplace experience whilst studying, they enable apprentices to enter the paying job market immediately or reskill whilst continuing to earn. They require providers to not only cover educational aspects but workplace experience as well. Importantly, degree apprentices do not pay for the qualification themselves and are able to advance without huge amounts of debt. Degree apprenticeships should not be repackaged as degrees and it is at the detriment of the system to assume this is so.

Misconception 2: Businesses are barely using the Apprenticeship Levy – there’s enough for everyone!

Degree apprenticeships are part funded by the Apprenticeship Levy and topped up by government contributions. Employers that spend over £3 million on payroll are required to pay 0.5% of this into the Apprenticeship Levy, they can then draw on this pot to fund apprenticeships, with the Education and Skills Funding Agency footing the rest of the bill. SMEs co-fund their apprenticeships, mainly paid for by the ESFA and sometimes Levy funds from companies higher in their supply chain. However, employers are increasingly choosing starts at higher levels (6-8) and higher cost, such as advanced management degree apprenticeships. Despite the dip in starts, the Levy is being increasingly overdrawn and it is estimated that by 2021/22 overspend will have reached £1.5 billion. Headlines detailing that businesses, for example, only used 9% of the available funds in 2017/18 are misleading. These numbers do not mean there is money to spare but rather are top level figures that do not take into account the cumulative cost of apprenticeship starts and the myriad of extra costs the system entails.

Misconception 3: Degree apprenticeships are for 18-year-olds.

Degre apprenticeship starts by age groupSource: DfE, 2019.


The above statistics show that the majority of new starts are over the age of 25, indicating that a lot of resources are going towards non-school leavers. As discussed previously, businesses are increasingly using the Levy to upskill current employees to higher levels. This tactic is resulting in overdrawing of the Levy and therefore reducing opportunities for people with lower education levels. It make sense that employers would use the system they have compulsorily invested in, in ways that will improve their existing workforce, but it may be at odds with the original aim of the initiative. Potential misuse of the system in similar ways was identified as a concern by the government in 2016, however, it is hard to identify ‘misuse’ when the aim of the system itself is unclear. It remains to be seen whether the regulating powers will crack down on some of the biggest contributors or if this usage will be the accepted norm.

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: