Many Universities and colleges have a track record of working with employers, employer organisations and professional bodies to support the development, assessment and accreditation of the professional competence needed to undertake specific job roles. In many sectors higher education qualifications also contribute to the award of associate and full membership of professional bodies. Employers and professional bodies in a growing number of sectors are, however, exploring alternatives to complement traditional graduate entry approaches. In law, accountancy, engineering and construction, to name just four sectors, new nationally recognised work-based learning Higher Apprenticeship routes are being developed to professional level job roles and professional membership and registration. Recent work has also been undertaken in recognising professional competence in sectors such as, aviation, business innovation and growth and quarrying. Research by PARN (Profession Associations Research Network) found that seventy per cent of the professional bodies surveyed considered Higher Apprenticeships to be a suitable way for professionals in their sector to become fully qualified and 73 per cent were interested in developing higher apprenticeships as a progression route (Williams and Hanson, 2011). Universities, colleges and awarding organisations are also working with employers and employer representative organisations to recognise professional competence in sectors without a traditional professional body model.
Such developments offer higher education both a challenge and opportunity. The challenge is that through the use of QCF and professional body qualifications, new nationally recognised routes to professional job roles can and are being developed that bypass HE and HE qualifications. More positively, for universities and colleges, the increasing interest in work-based progression routes to professional roles offer the opportunity to develop new partnerships with professional bodies, engage new employers and work with existing employers in new ways and thereby recruit new cohorts of learners.