When the government unveiled a new form of funded work-based degree education back in 2015 – badged as Higher and Degree Apprenticeships – you could have forgiven UK universities for delivering a collective shrug of the shoulders. After all, here was a model of education that could not easily be assimilated into the workings of a typical institution, with degrees ranging in length from two-to-six years, each bespoke to individual employers, and requiring flexible modes of delivery.
But fast forward to today, and degree apprenticeships are quietly reshaping the education landscape, bringing together universities, colleges and industry in a truly collaborative manner. And while there is still a level of misconception and confusion – not to mention a funding model that leaves some businesses thinking they need a degree to navigate it – all the signs are that they represent a significant new growth area for the education sector.
At the University of Plymouth, we currently provide two Higher and Degree apprenticeships – the Chartered Manager degree, and another in Digital and Technology Solutions (DTS) – with Nursing set to be launched this September, and more in the pipeline. Each is very different, with Chartered Manager being delivered via an online platform, contextualised by an academic tutor, while students on the DTS degree attend day release lectures at University partner colleges.
With this difference comes diversity. From SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) to public sector bodies, from A-level school leavers to middle-aged senior leaders, there is a rich range of people and perspectives in the mix. For some, it represents the opportunity to take a degree or masters that they thought might have passed them by. For others, it is about obtaining a qualification while developing key employability skills – and being paid to do so. For all, it is the chance to develop technical, specialist and maybe strategic skills that will enhance their career prospects, and the competitiveness of their employer.
In creating a model of education that is aligned to the needs of business, degree apprenticeships bring closer together universities with their regional economies. It’s a socially responsible programme, creating 21st century skills to keep the country on a competitive footing – and that is especially important for the South West, where retaining talent, and increasing productivity is so high on everyone’s agenda.
So, three years on, with higher and degree apprenticeships taking root in the region – and across the country – perhaps the only shrug of the shoulders is the one that accompanies the question: why weren’t they launched sooner?