FAQs Degree and Higher Apprenticeships

We’ve pulled together a list of FAQs regarding degree and higher apprenticeships. If you have any further questions please contact us.

1. What are Apprenticeships?

An Apprenticeship can be defined as a full-time paid job, which incorporates a programme of structured on and off the job training meeting.

The government additionally defines that it must meet certain specific criteria regarding duration (12 months or more), training (min 280 hrs, of which at least 30% away from workplace), employed hours (min. 30hrs a week), wages, achievement of minimum standards of English and Mathematics, and compliance with national apprenticeship standards (previously frameworks)

It is important to understand that the government’s model for apprenticeships of all types is that they should be employer led and driven and with the training largely workplace delivered.  Indeed for most apprenticeships there is not even a requirement for an educational qualification to be included (although most do at least at the higher levels).  Consequently most of the government guidance is written from the context/perspective of the employer rather than the education provider who is essentially a supplier (of education/training services) to the employer in this model.

However there are some more HE specific sources of useful information – probably the most comprehensive is published by The University Vocational Awards Council, who in 2015 produced a document called “Apprenticeship, Higher Apprenticeship and Degree Apprenticeship – A Guide for HEIs”. http://www.uvac.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/UVAC-Apprenticeship-Guide-12th-March-2015.pdf

The HEFCE website also has a Policy Guide on Degree Apprenticeships (including information on funding opportunities for HEIS’) at:

  • http://www.hefce.ac.uk/news/newsarchive/2016/Name,107889,en.html

UUK have also produced some information on degree apprenticeships

Including a March 2016 report on their projected growth

The government also produced a fact sheet and “quick start guide” for HEI’s interested in delivering apprenticeships (for the year 2015-16) which can be found at:

It should also be noted that much of the above applies specifically to England, and that different arrangements may apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

It is also worthwhile to note that the development of Higher and Degree Apprenticeships in Engineering is perhaps somewhat behind that in other areas, notably IT and Business, Finance and Law.  Some useful and transferable information can be found by looking at these.  For example:

2. What is the difference between a Degree Apprenticeship and a Part Time Degree?

Although degree level qualifications have been offered as part of some apprenticeship programmes ( for example day release degree courses etc.) for many years, the term Degree Apprenticeship has recently been adopted to have a more tightly defined meaning, and requiring providers to follow a specific process to offer such awards.   Even in degree apprenticeships however the educational qualification represents only part of the apprenticeship process.

The government’s expectation of what constitutes a Degree Apprenticeship  can be found on pages 12-13 of “The Future of Apprenticeships in England, Guidance for Trailblazers – from standards to starts (December 2015)” https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/487350/BIS-15-632-apprenticeships-guidance-for-trailblazers-december-2015.pdf  which states:

  1. If you are considering bidding to develop a standard which you believe may be at level 6 or 7, there is an opportunity to include a degree in it. Degree Apprenticeships bring together the best of higher and professional and technical education, and see apprentices achieving a full bachelor’s or master’s degree as part of their apprenticeship.
  2. They will involve employers, universities and professional bodies working in partnership, with apprentices employed throughout, spending part of their time at university (with flexibility as to how this is structured – e.g. via day release or block release) and part with their employer.
  3. Apprentices will complete a rigorous end-point assessment (EPA) which tests both the wider occupational competence and academic learning required for success in the relevant profession. The degree programme can be structured in one of two ways:
  • Employers, universities and professional bodies can come together to co-design a fully-integrated degree course specifically for apprentices, which delivers and tests both academic learning and on-the-job training. We think this will be the preferred approach for many sectors, as the learning is seamless and does not require a separate assessment of occupational competence.
  • Alternatively, sectors may wish to use existing degree programmes to deliver the academic knowledge requirements of that profession, combine this with additional training to meet the full apprenticeship requirements, and have a separate test of full occupational competence at the end of the apprenticeship.”


3. What is meant by “Modern”, “Advanced”, “Higher” and “Degree Apprenticeships”

The terminology around apprenticeships is somewhat complex – due to the wide range of types and levels of training and skills that they encompass, and the changing political landscape in which they sit

The first set of terminology used in apprenticeships relates to level.  Apprenticeships are described in terms of education levels (even where no educational qualification is included!), with apprenticeships currently offered from level 2 (GCSE equivalent) to levels 6 and 7 (degree and master’s degree respectively).  The different levels of apprenticeships are termed “intermediate” apprenticeships at Level 2, “Advanced Apprenticeships” at Level 3, “Higher Apprenticeships” at levels 4 and above, and Degree Apprenticeships in the case of Apprenticeships at levels 6 and 7 which lead to an undergraduate or Master’s degree as part of the apprenticeship training. It should be noted that these “degree apprenticeships” are the only apprenticeships which mandate an educational qualification within them.

Apprenticeships classified as providing training equivalent to Levels 4 and above but which do not lead to a Bachelors or Master’s degree are termed Higher Apprenticeships.  These include apprenticeships with no formal qualifications as well as Apprenticeships leading to qualifications such as HNC, HND and Foundation degree.  Again it is important to note that the educational qualification here is a means to an end (in terms of developing and demonstrating competence some of in the skills required for the apprenticeship) rather than the end in itself

One significant potential source of confusion is that there are still legacy apprenticeships being delivered /offered under the systems that predated the current apprenticeship model.    Particular care is needed to make the distinction between new “Apprentice Standards” and old style “Apprentice Frameworks” which were also known as “Modern Apprenticeships”

The Apprenticeships “Frameworks” and “Standards” are essentially the documents that define the design and content of the two types of apprenticeships developed pre and post 2014 and are significantly different.

Confusingly some of the old framework documents use the term framework and standard interchangeably.   Given that the old style apprenticeships will still be around for some time it is useful to be aware of them, even if only to avoid getting them mixed up with the new style apprenticeships standards and trailblazers which are described in more detail under FAQ’s 5 and 6

These old Apprenticeship Frameworks are currently being phased out (last starters on the old style apprenticeships summer 2017) and superseded by the new “Apprenticeship Standards”.  (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/removal-of-apprenticeship-frameworks ) but will still be in existence with apprentices on them for several years to come. Some useful sources of information on these legacy arrangements can be found at

4. What are Apprenticeship Standards and what are their significance for HEI’s/Course designers?

From 2015 onwards all new apprenticeship programmes have been required to be developed according to new mandatory Apprenticeship Standards.

The term Apprentice and Apprenticeship are moving to become protected titles, which means that it will be illegal to call any training programme an apprenticeship if it has not been developed and approved in accordance with these standards

The Apprenticeship is actually offered by the employer not the education/training provider (who simply provides one element of it as a subcontractor to the employer).  In order to offer apprenticeship training (and also to be eligible for funding) the apprenticeship offered by an employer must comply to this new set of national standards.

This lists both those standards which have been approved and are ready to be delivered, and those that are currently under development.   A first point for any organisation wishing to get involved in apprenticeships is to see whether a standards is already developed/under development in that occupation areas.

Where the Apprentice Standards have been approved, then any HEI wanting to deliver the education parts of it has no option but to design and deliver their provision in line with the existing Apprenticeship Standards.   In practise (and given that in Engineering at least, these will generally be linked to UK Spec) this may not be too restrictive.  The level at which the content is defined is typically not that prescriptive.  See for example these two examples of undergraduate and masters level degree apprenticeships

5. What are Trailblazers, and how might I get involved?

“Trailblazer” is the title given to the groups of employers, professional bodies and in some cases education and/or qualification providers set up to and tasked with developing the apprenticeship standards in different occupations.

These Trailblazers are required to be employer led and driven (requiring a minimum of 10 employers), but given the importance of these Trailblazer groups in developing the standards which define the allowable content of the HE component of degree apprenticeship programmes it is highly beneficial for HEI’s to be involved as members of these groups – to help guide and influence this aspect.

The Government list of standards in development is a good place to start, as this provides contact details of the leads of the trailblazer groups for each standard currently being developed

Alternatively, if no standard exists or has yet been approved for development, it may be possible to play a more influential behind the scenes role in prompting the formation of a new trailblazer group, for example by bringing together groups of companies from their own networks.  However bear in mind that ultimately these must be employer led and driven, and it is the employers that are required to drive these and commit to creating and funding the apprentice jobs to make these viable, before the education/training element becomes relevant

The standards are defined at quite a high level of granularity of job roles (generally more tightly defined than a traditional engineering degree course title) so even if one already exists in a related area, the possibility exists to create a complementary one  provided a like-minded group of employers can be found to lead a new Trailblazer group.  Departmental industrial advisory Boards etc. might be useful in this regard.

6.How does the Funding for Apprenticeships work?

The main difference for HE providers is that funding for apprenticeships in England is managed by the Skills Funding Agency rather than HEFCE – with very different processes and requirements

There is also an HE specific funding guide [Apprenticeship funding and performance-management rules for training providers, May 2017 to March 2018] available at

Crucially, it is an expectation of any Apprenticeship that the employer rather than Apprentice/Student pays any costs.  Universities cannot charge student fees for Apprenticeship provision, and these programmes are ineligible for Student Loan support

The funding for apprenticeships has two main components – A contribution from Government and an employer contribution (of at least 1/3rd of total cost).  Going forwards, the employer contribution may be drawn from a mandatory employer apprenticeship levy described subsequently.

Additionally, the Government has provided (via HEFCE) funding for the development of the educational components of new degree apprenticeships by HE providers.   An initial tranche of £8M was announced for 2016-17 with further funding likely to be available for future years

Part of the process for approval of an apprenticeship under the new standards is that the government (via SFA) agrees the maximum rate which it is prepared to contribute to delivery. This is done by allocating the apprenticeship to a series of funding bands which set a cap on the total amount of funding that can be claimed ( via Government and/or employer Levy pot).  This covers the full costs of delivering the apprenticeship training and NOT just any educational qualification component. These currently range from £3000 to a maximum of £27,000 of which the maximum government contribution is 2/3rds of the costs

There is nothing in principle to stop an HEI charging an employer a higher level of fee than that agreed in the Apprentice Standard – but the full additional cost would then be borne by the employer.    In practise, this is becoming a cost competitive market and employers are increasingly shopping around to find the best deal they can get – in contracting with education providers to deliver the education elements of their Apprenticeship Programmes.   The cost cap in the Apprenticeship standard covers the full apprenticeship programme including any training elements delivered by the employer, so employers may have an incentive to drive the rate charged to HE providers to below the maximum allowed level.  It is probable that the FE sector might enter this market at lower rates than universities can offer and the government would welcome a competitive market place of this sort.    The longevity of any contract might therefore be an important consideration when deciding whether to develop degree apprenticeship provision.

7. What is Apprenticeship Levy and what are the implications for HEI’s?

One of the key recent changes in the apprenticeships landscape has been the announcement by government of a new “apprenticeships Levy” which all employers (with a pay bill above £3m PA) will be required to pay.  Current plans are that from April 2017  employers will pay an apprenticeships levy of 0.5% of pay bill (less£10,000) to be held in a dedicated training account for them to use to offset against the costs of providing apprenticeship training ( excluding  apprentice salaries)

Although only a relatively small proportion of businesses will be required pay this levy, given their scale and the number of employees and trainees involved – these larger employers are likely to be the most important organisations with whom an HEI is likely to need to engage with when considering developing or delivering higher and/or degree apprenticeship training