Degree apprenticeships

In September 2015 the first university-business co-developed Degree Apprenticeship  programmes, were launched – having been designed and eligible for funding under the government’s new model for apprenticeship training (Apprenticeship Standards), and expected to be resourced via the so called “apprenticeship Levy”. Whilst still at a relatively small scale and early stage, as at March 2016, Apprenticeship Standards are ‘ready for delivery’ at the Degree Apprenticeship level in three discipline areas – two of which are engineering-related.  A further seven are awaiting approval, five of which are engineering-related.

Case study: Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, University of Sheffield

240216_AMRC_101The University of Sheffield has been an early entrant to this new form of higher learning.  Its Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre – AMRC has excellent relationships with businesses – both large multinationals and also local SMEs. It has been delivering research and taught masters degrees since its inception almost two decades ago. For the past three years, the AMRC and  the University of Sheffield has provided higher apprentice training, with an annual intake of 205 students. Having identified a gap in manufacturing education at degree level, it has been able to take advantage of the government initiative and funding around degree apprenticeships to develop its offer. Read More 

What’s is a higher or Degree Apprenticeship?

Higher apprenticeships refer to all apprenticeships which include the achievement of academic and vocational qualifications and learning from level 4 up to bachelor’s and master’s degrees at levels 6 and 7 respectively. All levels can include vocational qualifications and academic qualifications. Degree apprenticeships are the latest model to be developed as part of higher apprenticeship standards, seeing apprentices achieving a full bachelor’s or master’s degree as a core component of the apprenticeship. Degree apprenticeships combine both higher and vocational education and fully test both the wider occupational competence and academic learning, either:

  • using a fully-integrated degree co-designed by employers and HEIs, or
  • using a degree plus separate end-test of professional competence.

The figure below (adapted from the Skills Funding Agency fact sheet, June 2015) sets out how higher and degree apprenticeships link together.

Figure 1

Put another way, a Degree Apprenticeship involves an individual being awarded a bachelor’s or master’s degree as part of their Apprenticeship.  An Apprenticeship where an individual achieves a foundation degree as part of their Apprenticeship is a Higher Apprenticeship not a Degree Apprenticeship.  Degree Apprenticeships are not available at level 8.

Why should we get involved?

There have been recent reports that graduate recruitment will flatten off and apprenticeship recruitment will increase by 23 per cent. Reports from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) agree. They are currently meeting large employers and finding significant interest in apprenticeships at all levels.

Government guidance states that there are currently around 1,000 degree apprenticeships. Government has made a pledge to increase the number of apprenticeships starts to 3 million by 2020 and to support this aim they are helping higher education providers develop and deliver degree apprenticeships. A degree apprenticeship is a real job where the employer invests in training and the employee receives a first degree during the course of the apprenticeship. Apprentices work for 30 hours a week. Learning fits around that work commitment and requires flexible learning modes like day or block release, distance or blended learning. Overall these programmes provide the opportunity for HEIs to open up to a much wider and newer audience and to introduce and instil HE’s values, attitudes and expertise to a whole cohort that would not otherwise be accessed. It also enables HEIs to develop new relationships and collaborations with organisations and companies.

With the expected introduction of the “Apprenticeship Levy” on all large employers in the near future, there is now a huge financial incentive for employers to engage with these programmes – potentially as alternatives to traditional models of Higher Education, in order to recover their mandatory contribution to the Apprenticeship Levy, with this funding only being eligible to spend on apprenticeship programmes approved under the new standards. 

Designing a Degree Apprenticeship Programme

It is important to recognise that a successful degree apprenticeship programme has to be founded on a strong and real partnership between an employer (or group of employers) and a provider (or group of providers).  The following are normally essential elements that need to be in place to underpin this, before starting significant development:

  • A clear statement of intent and purpose agreed by all parties;
  • A programme structure that suits all parties;
  • A clear delineation of where responsibilities and accountabilities lie;
  • A clear statement of deliverables and which of the parties is to deliver.

There are also some key deliverables or structural demands that have to be addressed as follows:

  • Innovation in teaching and learning methodologies: because much of the content is employer and employment driven, and because this is following a statutory scheme of award, the work is to be structured so that the effectiveness of the teaching and learning content remains sharp and focused and is fully evaluated at every stage. There is scope here for producing teaching and learning papers and presentations to inform both the next stages in this development, and also to inform a much wider range of teaching and learning development.
  • Leadership and entrepreneurship opportunities in the curriculum: this is demanded by the nature and content of the programme. Students will be educated to be leaders and pioneers.
  • Skills development for future employment: the candidates are already in employment and their continued employment is dependent on their engagement and delivery of the work and other obligations and responsibilities as undergraduate students on this programme. 

Are there specific requirements an HEI needs to be aware of when planning the delivery of Degree Apprenticeships?

Degree Apprentices must be employed for a minimum of 30 hours per week and must have the right to live and work in the UK.  A Degree Apprentice cannot be self-employed and must be

  • a new recruit or an existing employee where an employer intends to support the individual complete the apprenticeship;
  • employed in a real job and the employer must pay a wage/salary and financially contribute to the cost of training and accrediting the apprentice.

An employer must enter into an Apprenticeship Agreement when taking on a Degree Apprentice at the start of the Apprenticeship.  If the student leaves or otherwise loses their job (eg because of misconduct or redundancy) then the employer would normally be held liable for the full course fees.

 A proforma agreement can be found at:

A national certification system operates for Apprenticeship.  It is currently a legal requirement that this is followed.  This is a simple process and more information can be found at Apprenticeship Certificates in England (ACE).

National Minimum Wage rates

Getting started – advice for university departments?

We’ve pulled together a checklist of things for university departments to consider when proposing to get involved in degree apprenticeships.  It’s still evolving so please do contact us if you have experience or advice you would like to add.

Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

We also conscious that the resources and advice we’ve listed on this page relate to England only.  If you’re in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, please click here.

Frequently Asked Questions