Last week, WA Communications hosted a roundtable with Toby Perkins MP, Shadow Minister for Further Education and Skills, to discuss Labour’s approach to skills and lifelong learning, with a particular focus on the party’s views on degree apprenticeships. Bringing together key players within the HE, apprenticeships, and skills sectors, the discussion highlighted the potential of degree apprenticeships for learners, industry, and the economy.
Perkins shed light on Labour’s current thinking around the skills agenda, confirming the party’s support for degree apprenticeships, advocating for FE and HE to “work hand in hand”, and calling for more investment in skills. However, he also stressed that spending the current levy funding should be the priority.
At the event, WA Associate Director, Lorna Jane Russell previewed WA’s latest education research report on degree apprenticeships, presenting the findings from original consumer polling and setting out the challenges – and potential solutions – to expanding these qualifications throughout the UK. We will launch these publicly next week.
Key Insights from the Roundtable:
1. Degree apprenticeships have the potential to be a valuable opportunity for policy in lifelong learning, especially in the context of increasing education costs and the skills shortage. However, they are still not widely available, and there is a lack of awareness about them among the public. There is also a perception gap about the prestige of degree apprenticeships, which may deter potential applicants.
2. To increase access and participation in degree apprenticeships, there is a need for new models that can widen participation and increase access to industry placements, especially for disadvantaged students who are currently underrepresented within the sector. This should be coupled with initiatives to support young learners in making the transition from school into work, including greater support throughout the qualification.
3. The government has adopted an employer-led approach to degree apprenticeships, which means less investment and fewer opportunities for students. This approach may also limit the development of new models that prioritise access and participation, rather than just meeting the needs of employers.
4. Universities and skills providers alike want to see more flexibility and fewer regulatory burdens in order to widen their degree apprenticeship offerings. Employer investment in skills is also down, and the apprenticeship levy needs reforming to be more flexible and help SMEs attract apprentices.
5. Finally, there is also a need for investment in upskilling the existing workforce to deliver future jobs in decarbonisation and technology. Degree apprenticeships could play a role in this upskilling effort by providing a pathway for workers to gain new skills while also earning a degree and gaining work experience.
So, what’s the upshot for the skills sector?
The cross-party consensus about the need to invest in skills training and degree apprenticeships favours skills providers, though universities that work with employers to offer degree apprenticeship qualifications will benefit.
Labour’s promise of flexibility in their approach to the apprenticeship levy presents significant opportunities for skills providers to expand their degree apprenticeship offerings, and for universities to access a new funding stream.
However, higher education could lose out to FE and apprenticeship providers in post-18 education reforms, so they will need to demonstrate how they can work alongside skills providers and local FE colleges to play a critical role in delivering on the reskilling agenda.
While for policymakers, degree apprenticeships have the potential to be a valuable opportunity for lifelong learning and addressing the skills shortage, more needs to be done to increase access and participation, support new models, and revise funding and regulatory frameworks to support students to ‘earn while they learn’.
If you have any questions or are interested in learning more about WA’s education team, please contact Lorna Jane Russell, WA Communications, at email@example.com.