The Future of Apprenticeships in England – Potential Implications for HEIs

On 28th October the Government published its implementation plan on delivering reforms to Apprenticeships in response to the recommendations of the Richard Review, accompanied by announcements from the Prime Minister. The Implementation Plan and Trailblazer Guidance is available at

UVAC has subsequently had discussions with both BIS and NAS officials on what the reforms mean for Higher Apprenticeship and university involvement.

The three strands of the reforms are as follows:

  • ‘We want to increase the quality of Apprenticeships. This will include higher expectations of English and maths within Apprenticeships, more assessment at the end of an Apprenticeship to ensure full competence and introducing grading for Apprenticeships.
  •  In future Apprenticeships will put employers in the driving seat, ensuring that they deliver high quality training that supports economic growth.
  •  We will also simplify Apprenticeships replacing long and complex frameworks with Apprenticeship standards of around one page written by employers in clear language that they understand.’

 ‘We are also planning to give employers greater control over funding for Apprenticeships, which will further support these three aims’.

Trailblazers were also announced, with funding support available through the Gatsby Foundation:

‘Trailblazers will lead the way in implementing these new Apprenticeships, ensuring that employers are involved in their design and that we deliver them in a way that works.  Our first Trailblazers, announced in the Implementation Plan, are in Aerospace, Automotive, Digital Industries, Electrotechnical, Energy and Utilities, Financial Services, Food and Drink Manufacturing and Life Sciences & Industrial Sciences’.

The Trailblazers will pave the way for full implementation of the reforms during 2015/16 and 2016/17 with the aim that all new Apprenticeship starts from 2017/18 will be on the new programme.  As the new standards are developed and agreed, we will cease funding Apprenticeships under former frameworks.

UVAC Commentary

This information is available in Word format for the purposes of downloading for future reference.  Please click here to download the file.

The reforms apply to all Apprenticeships (including Higher Apprenticeships), although there is little reference to Highers and the distinctiveness of the delivery infrastructure, funding etc.

Very usefully in his foreword Minister Hancock states:  Our goal is for it to become the norm for young people to go into an Apprenticeship or to university or – in the case of some Higher Apprenticeships – do both.’  This is a significant statement recognising the HEI role in Apprenticeship and clarifying the university or apprenticeship message.

Although recognising the success of Apprenticeships and the ability to build upon and utilise existing qualifications, approaches etc., the reforms are fundamental and will lead to substantial changes.

Apprenticeship Standards will replace Apprenticeship Frameworks – Employers (not SSCs or HEIs, FECs, Awarding Organisations etc.) will define standards (1 page documents) describing the skill, knowledge and competence required for an occupation.  Standards will meet professional registration requirements in sectors where they exist – given that degrees have a key role in some sectors in this area, HEIs will have a key role.  There will be one Standard for an occupation.  Work on Standards will initially focus on an occupation not a level, but a level will subsequently be ascribed. The Government will set a small number of criteria that standards will need to meet; interestingly HEIs are identified as having a role in ensuring they are fit for purpose (p12).  A nationally accepted and endorsed Apprenticeship standard for particular occupations will have implications for universities designing and delivering qualifications and programmes in these areas, both in terms of delivery and accreditation, but also for progression to HE from Apprenticeship at level 3.

Assessment of the Standard – Apprentices will be assessed (i.e. tested on their competence) at the end of the Apprenticeship, rather than through continuous assessment, a fair amount of commentary is provided on this issue.  Achievement will be graded as pass, merit and distinction. Independence of assessment is emphasised – this could be a key role for HEIs.  Grading may well prove interesting, but this will also be an issue for some professional bodies.

Trailblazers – The Trailblazers established show a strong concentration in STEM areas.  It will be interesting to see how others are developed in other sectors, particularly the service sectors.  BIS are interested in hearing from HEIs who want to have a supporting role in any of the Trailblazers, although the lead is employers, working with professional bodies and trade associations.  Contact can be made via UVAC.

Transition – HEIs are still encouraged to consider participating in the delivery of existing Higher Apprenticeship frameworks, but should note the aim is that from 2017/18 all new Apprenticeship starts will be based on the new Standards.  Instead of proposing new Apprenticeship frameworks HEIs will want to review how Apprenticeship Standards are being developed.

The future Contribution of Universities to Higher Apprenticeship – A UVAC View

  • (Where appropriate) Recognising Apprenticeships as fit for purpose  (p12 The Future of Apprenticeships in England)
  • Ensuring independence and consistency of assessment of the Apprenticeship standard and advising on approaches to assessment
  • Advising, supporting and enhancing the quality of learning/training and materials
  • Incorporating HE qualifications within Higher Apprenticeships
  • Supporting progression from Higher Apprenticeship (and Apprenticeships at level 3) to HE qualifications

A Suggested Approach to Higher Apprenticeships for HEIs – A UVAC View

  • For existing frameworks – Review Apprenticeship Frameworks Online (AFO) for HAs developed/being developed. NAS and BIS are still focusing on expanding Higher Apprenticeship numbers
  • Review the work of the HA Fund Partnerships and Professional Bodies
  • Consider developing progression routes from Higher Apprenticeship at levels 4 and 5
  • Join an SSC Consortium Approach to Higher Apprenticeship – ask UVAC for details
  • Review the work of Trailblazers developing Apprenticeship Standards and consider supporting work in this area.  Government is encouraging Trailblazers to involve training providers (and we are informed HEIs) in their discussions.

Contact UVAC for further information:



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