Higher and Degree Apprenticeships are a key aspect of the Government’s strategy to raise UK productivity. The aim is to recruit 3m apprentices by 2020. From April 2017 large UK employers have been paying the Apprenticeship Levy, which is projected to raise £3b per year. Smaller employers are eligible for up to 90% Government funding for apprenticeships. Around 40% of Apprenticeship Standards are at higher levels and the apprenticeship agenda has the potential to transform the landscape of higher education.
The Government indicated (BIS 2015) that the preferred model for Degree Apprenticeships would involve employers, universities and professional bodies working together to design and develop degrees that fully integrate the knowledge, skills and behaviours required to demonstrate that Apprenticeship Standards for identified job roles have been met. These integrated Degree Apprenticeships, unlike ‘Higher Apprenticeships’, require no separate ‘end test’.
Credit has a key role to play in the development of Degree Apprenticeships to provide the common currency for learning that this integrated approach requires. Credit provides the means to recognise learning equivalently wherever it occurs ‘on’ or ‘off the job’. For example, the accreditation of in-company training provides the means to integrate the resulting learning as a constituent element of Degree Apprenticeships. The integration of professional body recognition within Degree Apprenticeships can also be facilitated by a common understanding of credit and levels. For example, the production of credit-bearing professional development portfolios, as part of Degree Apprenticeship programmes, can often simultaneously provide the basis for meeting professional body membership requirements.
In these ways, credit has a key role to play in how Degree Apprenticeships shape the future of higher education.
The government wants to extend apprenticeship and as a result it has:
- Established a new target for public sector organisations employing over 250 people in England to ensure that at least 2.3% of their staff are apprentices. There is also a change to government procurement rules, which now stipulate that bidders for central Government contracts worth more than £10 million and lasting over 12 months must demonstrate their commitment to apprentices.
- Established an apprenticeship levy from April 2017, intended as a means to fund the training of the future workforce and amounts to a tax of 0.5% of the wage bill of those employers whose payrolls are £3 million or more per annum.
- Determined that small and medium-sized businesses will not pay the levy and will benefit from 90% Government funding for apprenticeships.
Most HEIs are now signed up to delivering Higher and Degree Apprenticeships. The promotion of Degree Apprenticeships which integrate the required knowledge, skills and behaviours of apprenticeship standards raises questions about the relationship between ‘academic credit’ and Apprenticeship Standards. While all Apprenticeship Standards are ‘levelled’, the language used to describe the knowledge, skills and behaviours is not currently required to reflect that of the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications or, for that matter, the seec Credit Level Descriptors. seec has a key role to play in supporting and promoting a coherent response to the significant shifts in the higher education landscape that the advent of Higher and Degree Apprenticeships seems likely to bring.