‘Refreshed approach’ needed for degree apprenticeships, says IfATE

The government-sponsored body said reform was needed to assessments, course structure and the validation of new courses

A consultation led by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) launches today, as the government-sponsored body sets out “a refreshed approach” for degree apprenticeships in a bid to find them “a clear brand and distinctive characteristics”.

According to the Institute, almost 100 different degree apprenticeships have launched since their introduction in 2015, with courses last year recruiting over 20,000 new starters.

Despite this growth, employers have concerns that current rules preclude new degree apprenticeships in sectors where a degree is near-essential for career progression, the IfATE admits.

Some degree apprenticeships have yet to demonstrate a ‘best of both’ hybrid quality, which meant more work was needed to establish them as “a distinctive offer” to learners and employers, the consultation report continues. The Institute also seeks a new structure and assessment procedures for the qualifications.

Higher education institutions (HEIs), employers and professional, statutory, and regulatory bodies can respond to the consultation, which explores five proposals, by 16 September. The IfATE expects to publish its response criteria this autumn, with new apprenticeship standards expected for approval from spring 2022.

Degree currency might leave some apprentices at a ‘disadvantage’, warn employers

The IfATE said employers felt “the existing approach does not appropriately recognise the currency of the degree in the labour market” and that, as a result, “apprentices in specific industries and sectors may be placed at a disadvantage compared to their labour market peers”.

“The time is right to look at how degree apprenticeships can give more and better opportunities to apprentices and employers” – Jennifer Coupland, IfATE

Office for National Statistics research predicts the creation of 1.8 million new jobs between 2014 and 2024 – and seven in 10 will be in the occupations most likely to employ graduates, the report warns. In graduate-level careers like teaching and health, where similar level 6 or level 7 qualifications are available, more than 60% hold a degree as their highest qualification, the report adds.

Rules could change to lower the threshold needed to approve the institution of new degree apprenticeships, the IfATE suggests – which is prohibiting new qualifications where employers cannot demonstrate “a specific degree in a specific vocational area is required”.

New degree apprenticeships should “fully integrate” on-the-job training with off-the-job learning so employers can have confidence the qualification infers learners have sufficient, proven on-the-job practical abilities, the IfATE says.

Firstly, the Institute will demand HEIs align degree teaching with an employ-specified occupational standard – or withdraw funding from those that do not. Secondly, to ensure cohesive learning outcomes, degree assessments and apprenticeship end-point assessments must integrate, which is not the case in more than half of courses, perhaps by allocating dual credits. Explaining its approach, the IfATE said: “The objective is to ensure that neither the degree nor the apprenticeship can be awarded in isolation from the other, with the EPA acting as a capstone for both.”

All assessment panels should have at least one member that’s independent of the HEI and has industry expertise, the report continues, “to secure confidence in the currency of the apprenticeship certificate as a signal of competence”.

Best practice should become ‘the norm’, says IfATE chief

“As we recover from the pandemic it is more important than ever that we support more people to get the skills they need to secure great careers,” said Gillian Keegan, minister for apprenticeships and skills.

“Degree apprenticeships are a fantastic way to earn while you learn, gaining the higher-level skills employers demand. These proposals will help make sure degree apprenticeships continue to meet the skills needs of employers, and create even more opportunity to earn whilst you learn for people across the country.”

Ms Keegan has told MPs that improving access to degree apprenticeships for disadvantaged students is a ministerial priority. Equal opportunity charity Sutton Trust has warned that degree apprenticeships need reform to improve social mobility.

Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of the IfATE, said degree apprenticeships “are really popular with apprentices and parents” and “met a clear demand from employers”.

“With more than four years of degree apprenticeship experience under our belts, since the Institute launched in April 2017, we’ve seen lots of examples of good practice, which we want to make the norm across the whole programme,” she continued, adding “the time is right to look at how degree apprenticeships can give more and better opportunities to apprentices and employers”.

Read more here: Government plans cull of level 3 qualifications


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