AGR Blog

Degree apprenticeships: the good, the bad and the ugly?


Ahead of National Apprenticeship Week, and with the implementation of the Apprenticeship Levy imminent, it’s fair to say degree apprenticeships are the hottest of topics amongst AGR members. What isn’t so clear though is if they are good or bad for the industry, and if the development of them is as difficult as you may have been led to believe. As part of AGR’s HEFCE-funded project, Sarah Hathaway, our Chief Membership Officer, writes on the findings of our research to date…


Apprenticeships in general, and degree apprenticeships in particular, are occupying the minds of many of our employer and university members. More than half are planning to offer one of the 19 degree apprenticeships approved for delivery, and two thirds of those are preparing to offer at least one of those that are in development. Everyone I meet who is involved in this particular area of early talent strategy has been on a steep learning curve, trying to understand the complexities of standards, assessments and the levy.

Delivering an impact

While there are employers who are taking a more cautious, staged approach, delivering one programme or recruiting just a couple of apprentices, clearly there are those that already see degree apprenticeships as core to their talent strategy and are planning for multiple programmes.

There are mixed views on how much of an impact the apprenticeship levy has had – 30% of those employers that had a strategy for degree apprenticeships pre-levy announcement said that there has been no change in this. But 45% said that their strategy has accelerated, half of those at the expense of their graduate recruitment. A more recent survey by BPP and trendence UK suggests very few employers are planning drastic reductions to the number of graduates they recruit. Many more though are considering converting existing graduate schemes into graduate-entry level apprenticeships.

Rising to the challenge

At a recent AGR round table, there was a significant difference of opinion, with some employers saying the levy has had no impact – where there have been apprenticeships working successfully in a sector for some time, employers will continue to do what works. Other sectors feel it’s been pivotal, focusing internal attention on an opportunity that wouldn’t have been considered previously.

This would be music to government’s ears, if it wasn’t for the numerous barriers that employers and universities are facing. These include the availability and delay in approval of standards (some have taken years), identifying the right partner(s) to work with, and top of the list for employers, the reputation and awareness of apprenticeships. Universities UK have also researched the supply side of the degree apprenticeships and found similar challenges.

There are no silver bullets to any of this, but what I am finding as I talk to more and more employers and universities, are examples of creativity, tenacity and commitment.

Fit with business need

There’s no question that employers will only invest in degree apprenticeships if they fit with their early talent strategy. From the survey, over 70% are clear or somewhat clear about the level of skills gaps they have, and the good news is that degree apprenticeships are part of addressing that gap.

What they would like more of though is innovation, speed and flexibility – often seemingly incompatible with either the government’s approach to standards or a provider’s ability to deliver. Employers still struggle to fill their graduate vacancies – if degree apprenticeships are seen as a way to address this, they want them to happen quickly.

But there are big challenges for many providers. Getting internal understanding and buy-in is often a struggle, and the provision needs to be cost-effective.

Of course, one thing government, employers and providers all agree on is that quality needs to be underpinning all these discussions. Quality of delivery, quality of support and quality of candidates….

Collaborate and listen

In order to deliver that quality, it’s clear that collaboration is essential. Between employers within a sector, with professional and regulatory bodies, and between education institutions, including FE colleges. There are examples of multiple universities coming together to satisfy the regional and programme delivery needs of an employer, of a private provider working with an HEI and HEIs working with Further Education Colleges. The public and tech sectors are great examples of employer collaboration generally, and if this can be extended to apprenticeships there is a real opportunity to deliver impact.

What is needed are true business-to-business conversations, a mutual respect for different organisational drivers, and a partnership approach. Here at AGR, we are providing the content and the connections, to help turn the bad and the difficult into the good.


Want to find out more? Register for our free Developing Degree Apprenticeship event on Tuesday 6th June in Brighton. Please click here for further details.

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