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Taking a strategic approach to Degree Apprenticeships

ISE’s Sarah Hathaway reviews our latest data to provide insight on how higher education institutions are approaching degree apprenticeships.

 

There are few providers in the UK that are not at some level responding to the relatively recent advent of Degree Apprenticeships. In some, there is a palpable sense of enthusiasm for a new opportunity to build a competitive edge. Others are playing catch up – in their own words, ‘late to the party’ – or are reluctantly surveying the landscape and still trying to decide if the threat can be ignored.

AGR (now ISE) undertook research with 30 providers through their heads of careers service, and the findings have been corroborated by in-depth interviews conducted by NCUB. The findings paint an interesting picture and while it’s perhaps too soon to be talking about best practice in Degree Apprenticeship provision, the study starts to illustrate how far ahead some higher education institutions (HEIs) are in their thinking.

We first asked about strategy and whether this was centralised or devolved. Those institutions that have been working on this for the longest have a centralised strategy with a clear line of site to senior management, usually a PVC. There are steering groups that have been set up, with representatives from a wide range of functions including business development, marketing, recruitment and faculties. Feasibility studies have been done, and a central team is in place supporting quality, processes, funding and compliance.

In comparison, the starting point for many institutions appears to be, or has been, to appoint a champion within a faculty who puts significant effort in - over and above their day job - to corral others. Faculties are developing the programmes and processes in isolation, sometimes resulting in an inconsistent experience for employers.

Many respondents have moved on from this stage and apprenticeship teams are being brought together across institutions – and they are learning quickly. For those that haven’t reached this point yet, there is hope that it is on the horizon.

From a provider perspective, the development and offering of Degree Apprenticeships are not without their challenges, both real and perceived. We wanted to understand their views on the impact on industrial placements and sandwich degrees, and also their concerns about delivery.

The majority of respondents said that they have no experience of employers reducing the number of placements on offer to undergraduates, but they expect to see that in the future as Degree Apprenticeships become more established. Some have experience of this already happening, others are still unsure. More detailed responses revealed an expectation that different subject areas will be affected differently, and one respondent suggested there will be an increase in placements and internships, as Degree Apprenticeships will create an opportunity for building broader relationships with employers – a lone voice of positivity.

Other concerns range from increased costs to providers through new roles, systems, data requirements and processes, to unsustainable, high cost financial models. Balancing supply and demand was reported as difficult. And in the longer term, there is still fear that some existing programmes will be cannibalised.

While this may sound as if HEIs are viewing Degree Apprenticeships cautiously, many are directing significant resources – both financially and in human capital – towards realising the opportunity they offer. Degree Apprenticeships are seen as a way to offer a broader range of programmes to a wider section of young people, and working with employers more closely will bring other benefits to the institution. Those that succeed will likely be those that move from an ad hoc to a strategic approach quickly, engaging the whole organisation in the response.