Consultation on Criteria for Higher Apprenticeships at Degree Levels

Universities as Key Partners in Professional Learning and Accreditation through Higher Apprenticeship – Consultation on Criteria for Higher Apprenticeships at Degree Levels

UVAC was commissioned by the National Apprenticeship Service to support universities and MEG colleges to play a full part in Higher Apprenticeship.  Our Chair Professor Joy Carter has also been asked by the National Apprenticeship Service to champion the role of universities in Higher Apprenticeship and play a leading role in the consultation.

UVAC has also responded to the consultation exercise. A copy of our response can be seen here.

What is Higher Apprenticeship and what is the consultation about?

  • Higher Apprenticeships are sector specific learning programmes designed to enable individuals, while in employment, to develop the knowledge and occupational competencies needed to perform a particular technician, managerial or professional job role
  • Higher Apprenticeship is a key policy priority for the Coalition Government, with both rounds of the Higher Apprenticeship Fund being announced by the Prime Minister
  • The statutory framework for Apprenticeship, the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards in England (SASE), currently only covers learning programmes up to and including level 5 (foundation degree level).  Responding to employer demand, BIS has, however, asked the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) to consult upon and advise upon criteria for Higher Apprenticeship at levels 4 to 7 (encompassing HE certificates to Master’s degrees).
  • Through the Higher Apprenticeship Fund, partnerships (involving learning providers and employers) are already being supported to develop new Higher Apprenticeship frameworks in approximately 30 sectors covering a wide range of subjects including accounting, business and administration, construction, engineering technology, IT software web and telecommunications, logistics, management and professional services
  • Several of these partnerships (of which only two are led by universities) are developing approaches to offer and deliver Higher Apprenticeships at level 6 and above

Why should my university get involved in Higher Apprenticeship?

  • The impetus to develop Higher Apprenticeship follows the substantial growth in Apprenticeship starts at levels 2 and 3; 457,300 starts were recorded in the 2010/11 academic year – an increase of 63.5% on 2009/10
  • The development of Higher Apprenticeship presents universities and colleges with significant new opportunities to develop new partnerships with professional bodies and employers, widen participation and develop new HE qualifications for new groups of learners  
  • Higher Apprenticeships are required by legislation to deliver the knowledge and competency requirements of particular job roles; as such they represent an excellent vehicle to engage and work with employers, widen access to the professions and work with professional bodies.   A recent report by the Professional Associations Research Network (PARN) found that 70% of the professional bodies surveyed considered Higher Apprenticeships as a suitable way for professionals in their sectors to become fully qualified and 73% were interested in developing Higher Apprenticeships as a progression route (Williams and Hanson, 2011.)
  • Employers currently engaged in, and in some cases leading the development of Higher Apprenticeship include Airbus, BAE Systems, BT, IBM, Legal and General, HSBC, PWC, Orange, TNT and Tata Steel.
  • Higher Apprenticeships are being used to develop clear progression routes for Apprentices completing programmes at level 3 to managerial and professional roles.  Historically very few apprentices have progressed to or benefited from Higher Education.  In a tracking survey the University of Greenwich calculated that 13.1% of Advanced Apprentices progressed to HE within four years of completing their Apprenticeship.

It is important for the HE sector to note that a Higher Apprenticeship at levels 4, 5, 6 or 7 need not incorporate a university qualification.  QCF qualifications, developed to meet the requirements of professional bodies and employers to a nationally consistent standard and specification, could and are being offered by colleges and private training providers to deliver the specified knowledge and competency requirements of a Higher Apprenticeship.  Skills Funding Agency funding is also available, subject to employer size, to support the delivery of non prescribed HE competence qualifications specified in Higher Apprenticeships  at levels 4 and 5 and stimulate SME take-up of Higher Apprenticeship.  New nationally accredited vocational pathways for level 3 learners up to level 6 and 7 are, accordingly, being developed and promoted across a range of sectors as an alternative to traditional higher education.  There is therefore an issue of competition facing the HE sector.  UVAC has and is continuing to argue that Higher Education can play a major role in supporting Higher Apprenticeship.  Specifically we have highlighted that several universities have a substantial track record in supporting work-based learning and that universities and colleges as a whole have excellent contacts with employers and experience of working with professional bodies.

Higher Apprenticeship and Higher Education – Frequently Asked Questions

Q1 – Higher Apprenticeships – What are they? – Higher Apprenticeships are learning programmes designed on the basis of employer skills requirements and in accordance with legislative requirements outlined in the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England (SASE) to enable individuals in employment develop the knowledge and occupational competencies needed to perform a particular technician, management or professional job role.

Q2 – At what Levels are Higher Apprenticeships Available? The Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England (SASE) allows for the recognition of Higher Apprenticeships at level 4 (HE Certificate) and level 5 (Foundation degree).  Government, through the National Apprenticeship Service, is consulting on the development and recognition of Apprenticeships at level 6 (Honours degree) and above, which will include a focus on professional accreditation and membership of professional bodies.  Several of the projects funded by the Higher Apprenticeship Fund are developing Higher Apprenticeships at level 6 and above.

Q3 – Why Should Universities be interested in Higher Apprenticeship? Higher Apprenticeships are required by legislation to deliver the knowledge and competency requirements of particular job roles; as such they represent an excellent vehicle to engage and work with employers, widen access to the professions and work with professional bodies (see Q11).  QCF Awarding Organisations are developing new qualifications (as alternatives to HE awards) to deliver the knowledge and competency requirements of Higher Apprenticeships.  New nationally accredited vocational pathways for level 3 learners up to level 6 and 7 are, accordingly, being developed and promoted across a range of sectors as an alternative to traditional higher education programmes provided by universities.

Q4 – Is Higher Apprenticeship related to Widening Participation? – Higher Apprenticeships are being used to develop clear progression routes for Apprentices completing programmes at level 3 into technician, managerial and professional roles.  Historically very few apprentices (a programme where learners from lower socio-economic groups are disproportionally represented) have progressed to or benefited from Higher Education.  In a tracking survey the University of Greenwich calculated that 13.1% of Advanced Apprentices progressed to HE within four years of completing their Apprenticeship.

Q5 – Is Higher Apprenticeship an Alternative to Higher Education? – Higher Apprenticeship is often positioned and promoted as an alternative to ‘traditional’ higher education, with the advantages of learning while you earn, where an employer contributes to the cost of learning and as a route to gaining the knowledge and skills an employer and industry sector wants.  Higher Apprenticeship could also, however, be seen as very similar to, or at least sharing many of the characteristics of, work-based higher education programmes developed by universities and colleges in recent years, albeit Higher Apprenticeship is developed and delivered to the statutory requirements of SASE.     

Q6 – In what Subject Areas are Higher Apprenticeships Available?  Higher Apprenticeships were introduced in 2009 in the Engineering and IT sectors. Through the Higher Apprenticeship Fund (announced in July 2011), partnerships involving learning providers and employers are already being supported to develop new Higher Apprenticeships frameworks in approximately 30 sectors/occupational areas covering a wide range of subjects including; accounting, business and administration, construction, engineering technology, IT software web and telecommunications, logistics, management and professional services . In future Higher Apprenticeship frameworks will be developed in sectors/occupational areas on the basis of employer demand.  To provide a comparison to current Higher Apprenticeship development, there are currently over 180 Apprenticeship career choices at level 2 and 3 in 80 different sectors.

Q7 – How Many Higher Apprentices are there?  In December, nineteen partnerships comprising employers and training providers were awarded £19m to support more than 19,000 Higher Apprenticeship benefiting 250 employers.  In June 2012 a further £6.5m was awarded to nine partnerships to create a further 4,000 higher apprenticeships in sectors such as aviation, low carbon engineering, legal services and space engineering.  Although numbers are currently small, there is considerable interest from employers in Higher Apprenticeship and the attraction of learning while earning, with employers contributing to the cost of training programmes may prove very attractive to young people.  It is also worth noting that Apprenticeship numbers at levels 2 and 3 have grown substantially in recent years – 457,300 starts were recorded in the 2010/11 academic year – an increase of 63.5% on 2009/10.

Q8 – How are Higher Apprenticeships different to Foundation degrees and HNDs? – Higher Apprenticeships are not qualifications, but learning frameworks incorporating qualifications which can include a Foundation degree or HND to deliver the knowledge or knowledge and competency requirements specified in the Higher Apprenticeship.  Unlike a Foundation degree, a learner following a Higher Apprenticeship must be employed.  Like some Foundation degrees, particular emphasis in the delivery of Higher Apprenticeship is placed on work-based learning, but there is a set minimum requirement for a Higher Apprenticeship.  Higher Apprenticeships have to be approved as meeting the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England (SASE) by an ‘issuing authority’ usually a Sector Skills Council.  In addition to knowledge and competence requirements, Higher Apprenticeships include requirements to include Personal Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS) and, unless previously achieved, functional skills or equivalencies in Maths and English and Employer Rights and Responsibilities (ERR).  Higher Apprenticeship is being positioned by some as ‘demand led by employers’; in contrast HNDs and Foundation degrees can be seen as ‘supply led’.

Q9 – Is it Possible to Deliver Higher Apprenticeships Without Using University Qualifications? – Yes.  The knowledge and competency requirements of Higher Apprenticeships can and are in many, if not most cases, being delivered through the use of non-prescribed HE (e.g. QCF) qualifications. New work-based progression routes to professional and managerial roles are being developed without using Higher Education qualifications.  Further details are outlined in SASE.

Q10 – Is Public Funding Available to Support the Delivery of Higher Apprenticeship? – Subject to employer size, SFA funding is available to support the delivery of non-prescribed HE competence qualifications in Higher Apprenticeships at level 4 and 5.  Grants are also available to support SMEs recruit their first Apprentice.

Q11 – What is the Attitude of Professional Bodies to Higher Apprenticeship? – A recent report by the Professional Associations Research Agency found that 70% of the professional bodies surveyed considered Higher Apprenticeships as a suitable way for professionals in their sectors to become fully qualified and 73% were interested in developing Higher Apprenticeships as a progression route (Williams and Hanson, 2011).

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