Make degree apprenticeships a force for social mobility, says the Office for Students

Young medical apprentices wearing doctor scrubs
by Hayley Pearce | 11 Mar 2019

Degree-level apprenticeships less diverse than other routes, report finds

Degree apprenticeships are dominated by white students from advantaged backgrounds, a report published by the Office for Students (OfS) reveals.

The report states that in 2016-17, only 13% of people studying degree-level apprenticeships were from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, with 28% of them coming from the most affluent areas.

The proportion of disadvantaged young people in degree apprenticeships is higher than in equivalent mainstream higher education, but it is significantly lower than in other apprenticeships.

This reflects a general trend whereby the higher level the apprenticeship, the lower the percentage of disadvantaged learners it attracts.

In the same year, 87% of apprentices taking these qualifications were white and only 7% declared a disability, making degree apprenticeships less ethnically diverse than equivalent higher education courses.

Widening opportunities ‘vital’

The report acknowledges the good work universities and colleges are doing to promote degree apprenticeships but says there is “more to do” to ensure more disadvantaged and underrepresented learners are supported to access and succeed in them.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS, said: “Degree apprenticeships have the potential to make a big difference to students and employers across the country, and to give a real boost to local and regional economies.

“It is vital to widen opportunities for disadvantaged learners to access and succeed in degree apprenticeships, and there is further to go to encourage minority ethnic and disabled learners to follow this route.

“We need to ensure that prospective apprentices have high quality information, advice and guidance about their options, and more generally to raise the profile and reputation of degree apprenticeships.

“Now that the groundwork has been done, we look forward to seeing further increases in the numbers of high-quality degree apprenticeships.”

Growing numbers

The OfS report concludes that while the numbers of degree apprentices are relatively low, they have increased significantly in recent years.

It says it expects them to grow further now that the necessary infrastructure has been established, and if specific barriers associated with procurement and validation processes can be overcome, with degree apprenticeships in nursing, policing and other areas of the public sector expected to particularly.

In terms of social mobility, the OfS said it is too early to say what the impact of degree apprenticeships is, but they are enjoyed by both disadvantaged students and mature learners already in the workforce.

There is also evidence, the report finds, that degree apprenticeships may be improving the participation of women in STEM subjects compared to the proportions found in equivalent traditional higher education. 

Looking ahead, the report says there is a need to improve the information, advice and guidance available to prospective learners about this education option, and to increase the profile and esteem of degree apprenticeships among employers, teachers and parents.

Step change

Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the OfS, said: “The numbers of degree apprenticeships are steadily expanding from a low base, but we now need a step change to make them available to students from all backgrounds. 

“The OfS’s new guidance, published last week, enables universities for the first time to invest through their access and participation plans in removing barriers to degree apprenticeships for students from disadvantaged and underrepresented groups. The evaluation report we are publishing today will help them understand how to achieve this.”

The OfS included in ways it is committed to supporting degree apprenticeships, including working with regulators, universities and colleges to build progression pathways from lower-level apprenticeships to those at degree level, removing barriers for underrepresented groups and ensuring value for money for all learners.

Advantages of degree apprenticeships

In a TSR thread discussing degrees versus degree apprenticeships, nutz99 said: “The degree you get at the end of the degree apprenticeship is exactly the same as a normal degree. The difference is that the company offering you the degree apprenticeship pay you a salary as well as paying your university tuition fees.

He added: “It’s a good way to get a degree without being thousands in debt when you graduate. A friend is currently doing one in Birmingham and from what he has said it is very competitive. You'll need good grades and have to impress them at an interview.”

And LiviLu highlighted another advantage of degree apprenticeships, saying “what you will get from the apprenticeship that you won't get with a normal degree is experience.”

She added: “Honestly, companies take experience very seriously, and could be the thing that sets you apart from all the other people applying for post-grad jobs. It shows that you can a) actually do the job and b) are already adjusted to what it's like to work in a business environment and interact with colleagues.

"Another added benefit you will get with an apprenticeship a degree is, if they like you – they may offer you a permanent position!”

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