UUK report urges government to promote ‘earn while you learn’ courses to meet student, parent and employer enthusiasm

The UK’s degree apprenticeship system is being undermined by “poor levels of awareness” among school pupils, parents and employers, says a new report.

The Future of Degree Apprenticeships, published by Universities UK on 15 July, which includes the results from a survey of around 750 school students and from focus groups, calls on the government to reform the system so that many more people can become degree apprentices.

Such apprenticeships combine vocational training with academic study. Apprentices “earn while they learn”, working four days a week and spending one day in university.

Four out of every five school pupils in years 10 and 12 (81 per cent) surveyed said they knew “little” or “nothing at all” about the application process for degree apprenticeships, while just seven per cent knew about their course structures.

Likewise, an Education Select Committee report on value for money in higher education found a “woeful lack of careers advice and awareness” about the degree apprenticeship option, said the committee’s chair, Robert Halfon MP.

Schools and Colleges Should Encourage Apprenticeships

But focus groups showed parents and pupils were “enthusiastic” when they did find out more about such apprenticeships, the UUK report said.

The benefits of these courses should be “trumpeted in our schools and colleges” and the government should make “every effort to champion their expansion”, Mr Halfon said.

Currently there are 7,000 degree apprentices in England and more than 100 universities delivering or ready to deliver such degree courses.

Alistair Jarvis, UUK’s chief executive, said the courses are starting to have a “significant impact” on sectors with skills shortages such as digital technology, nursing, policing, and teaching, and that their benefits are “too great to keep secret”.

“Government must take the lead in promoting these and in reforming the system so more people know about degree apprenticeships and can do them,” he added.

The report recommends that the government should lead a campaign to promote the benefits of such apprenticeships, including providing better careers information at an earlier age in schools.

UCAS should make the application system for degree apprenticeships as “straightforward” as it is for undergraduate degrees, the report also says.

There should also be government investment in initiatives supporting those in underrepresented groups to take up degree apprenticeships, it argues.

A majority of employers (89 per cent) said that degree apprenticeships attracted high-calibre learners and that degrees equip them with the knowledge and skills needed in a “rapidly-changing economy”.

But the “levels of bureaucracy” in the system do not make it easy for employers and universities to provide such apprenticeships, added Mr Jarvis.

“It’s time to strip this back and put the needs of employers at the heart of the degree apprenticeship system,” he said.

This article was originally published on the Times Higher Education site, you can read it here.