Dr Darryll Bravenboer, Director of Apprenticeships and Skills at Middlesex University, discusses the significance of degree apprenticeships and the need for collaboration to realise their full potential.
Higher and degree apprenticeships have massive transformational potential. They open up opportunities for people from low income and disadvantaged backgrounds to enter professional careers, as they can obtain the same university qualifications as traditional graduates while gaining invaluable on-the-job experience. The advanced upskilling they offer to employers means that degree apprenticeships help to drive the restructuring of job roles required to maximise UK economic productivity. As the government aims for three million apprenticeship starts by 2020 and its Apprenticeship Levy on employers is forecast to raise £2.8 billion by 2020, degree apprenticeships should be a major feature of the landscape.
Middlesex University, one of only two universities to be awarded higher apprenticeship development project funding in 2011, is hugely excited to be involved in this agenda. The University currently offers a very popular degree apprenticeship programme in construction, in areas such as Construction Site Management, Quantity Surveying and Commercial Management, with big companies such as Vinci and Interserve. The University has been working with employers to establish business to business (B2B) sales as a profession for the first time in the UK, and is working in collaboration with a range of public sector organisations to develop and deliver degree apprenticeships for teachers, nurses, social workers and police constables, planned from September this year. This will play a key role in embedding apprenticeships in the public sector and is just one of the ways in which Middlesex University provides our public services with skilled workers.
There is also huge demand from employers across industry sectors for degree apprenticeships in the areas of digital and management, particularly in London. Middlesex has a longstanding partnership with the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) as an accredited CMI Centre and is a major provider of higher-level skills for the digital sector. This means that the University is very well placed to meet the management and digital needs of employers both nationally and regionally.
Collaboration between employers, HE providers with degree awarding powers and professional associations has boosted the quality of degree apprenticeships. In the case of B2B Sales, a Trailblazer Group – chaired by Royal Mail and facilitated by the Association of Professional Sales, drawing together employers and three universities (including Middlesex) as members – developed a degree apprenticeship which constitutes B2B Sales as a full profession for the first time. This mark of recognition provides career progression opportunities for thousands of people. Moreover, a collaborative approach to working means that universities, as the providers, have been able to design a degree apprenticeship programme from first principles which aligns with employers’ workforce development needs as well as both professional and academic standards. The added value of this alignment provides evidence of the quality of this apprenticeship.
We stand at the threshold of once-in-a-generation social change, and one of the best opportunities we will have to move beyond the unhelpful ‘academic/vocational’ dichotomy to establish a model of higher education that integrates work and learning, opens doors to a professional career and cracks Britain’s productivity weakness. Universities have a central role to play in delivering higher level skills and for this to happen, the roll out of degree apprenticeships needs to be expedited. A key challenge is the relationship between higher education sector and the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA), the body set up to supervise the development of high-quality apprenticeships and advise on the amount of government funding employers can draw on.
To avoid delays and misunderstandings which have held up the approval of apprenticeship programmes, we need universities to be represented on the IfA’s Board and across the organisation to make sure the sector’s critical role in delivering higher-level skills is recognised. This will ensure that, for example, there is understanding of the credit and quality regime that underpins higher education, such as the independent external examiners used by all universities, in order to avoid duplicate systems being set up before apprenticeships are approved. On funding, for which the government has capped the maximum at £27,000 per apprentice, the IfA’s approach to the allocation of funding bands for degree apprenticeships seems to be inappropriately depressing the bands, which acts as a disincentive for providers delivering levy-compliant apprenticeships. If we are to achieve the Government’s target of three million apprenticeship starts by 2020 and enhance social mobility and productivity, it is in the interests of employers, professional groups and providers to work together as effectively as possible. We need collaboration between all stakeholders to ensure degree apprenticeships are designed to meet employers’ needs and have the professional credibility that is conferred through the award of a degree.
While we wait for new apprenticeships standards to be approved by the IfA, Middlesex University is in a unique position to be able to offer degree apprenticeships in construction for which companies can maximise their levy spend. Apprentices will seamlessly transfer to the new standards once approved. Likewise, the 20 apprentices due to start on the new B2B Sales degree apprenticeship will begin their training using the Chartered Manager standard with an additional sales focus, and will transfer to B2B Sales following the approval of the funding band for this apprenticeship. We look forward to working alongside the IfA to help get these and other new standards in place so that we can all start to see the benefits of this ambitious and much-needed apprenticeships programme.