Degree apprenticeships – lessons from the first year for ARU

Published: 14 May 2018 at 12:01

Anglia Ruskin has a well established reputation for working with employers in delivering degrees integrated with employment. The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy last year, alongside a much greater emphasis on degree apprenticeships, has fundamentally changed this part of the educational landscape.

What is a degree apprenticeship?

  • A degree apprenticeship is an apprenticeship where the employee is studying towards an undergraduate or postgraduate degree as part of their apprenticeship.
  • Tuition fees are paid by the employer using the Apprenticeship Levy, and apprentices are paid a salary. Learning fits around that work commitment and requires flexible learning modes such as day or block release, distance or blended learning.
  • In the apprenticeship model, employers select the programme of study and the training provider of their choice to deliver that programme. 

What is the Apprenticeship Levy?

  • The Apprenticeship Levy is paid by employers with annual pay bills in excess of £3 million. The levy is payable at 0.5% and is held in a 'digital fund' that employer can use to pay for apprenticeship training.
  • Funds in the digital fund remain available for 24 months from the date of payment. Any amount that remains unspent after that period will expire and will be reclaimed by HMRC, including the 10% contribution.
  • Payment from the digital fund is made directly to training providers on a monthly basis, for as long as the apprentice remains on the scheme. 

Our first year working with this model has resulted in significant numbers of students and employers engaging with degree apprenticeships.

  • We have 480 apprentices on six degree apprenticeships programmes.
  • By September 2018 we will have 11 apprenticeship programmes.
  • We are working with over 80 employers, including well-known names such as Co-op, Barclays, Thales, Sanger (Wellcome Trust), Aveva and GSK.
  • There are two prevailing delivery models:
    1. the majority are a blend of online + on campus + in business/workplace
    2. two are on campus + in business/workplace (nursing, chartered surveyor).

The new model, though still in its infancy, is working really well for us.

  • There is considerable demand – we are working across our region and matching requirements to our programmes.
  • The need to work with a wide range of employers has provided the opportunity to create deeper relationships, leading to potential research and innovation opportunities.
  • We have been very successful in winning tenders across the region.
  • We have been able to successfully adapt our approaches to student management and support – recognising that these students need a different portfolio of support and services.
  • The interaction between academics and businesses has been enhanced.
  • Adaptation of existing programmes (taught and online) and teaching practices to new Apprenticeship Standards has resulted in appreciable benefits and some economies of scale.

As perhaps would be expected there have been some challenges in the new model.

  • The administration mandated by the Government for contracting and monthly draw down of our fees is complex and very different to other funding mechanisms.
  • As early adopters of degree apprenticeships we are finding that we are challenged with adapting our HE practices to the structural requirement, for example end point assessments, workplace support, and employer mentors.
  • There is increasing pressure from the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) to reduce the cost of delivery. We are increasingly challenged in delivering quality degree apprenticeships that meet employer requirements in the face of reducing IfA fee band decisions.
  • We sit on a number of Apprenticeship Trailblazers (the process by which new standards and pathways are agreed), which is a good thing. However the time it takes to get standards passed at the IfA makes meeting employer expectations and student forecasting very difficult.

We have exceeded our own expectations significantly in this first year; the expectations for the next year are appreciable. We could easily have 1,000 new starters on degree apprenticeships in the next 12-18 months and this will change the nature of ARU.

We will need to work hard to ensure we deliver an outstanding educational experience to these students, whilst maintaining the same outstanding experience for our on-campus students.

There are real benefits from leading in this area, many of which will feed into areas that benefit all students. One example is the smarter use of digital technology to support students.

We hope there is stability in the policy that supports degree apprenticeships whilst at the same time we seek some changes that will enable the system to be more responsive to employer need, less bureaucratic and have a greater understanding of what quality looks like and what it requires in terms of resources.

ARU should be very pleased with our first year of experience in this new model – we will need to continue to adapt, innovate and influence to ensure the continued successful delivery of degree apprenticeships.

Iain Martin
May 2018