What are degree apprenticeships?

by Beth Anderson | Jul 30, 2018 | Apprentices, degree

Designed for the learner, by the employer and institutes of higher education, degree apprenticeships combine learning with earning, to further the apprentice’s knowledge, skills and behaviours through standards built specifically for their job role. The idea behind this being that you are an ‘instant’ success in your chosen industry.


Gone are the days where school leavers would have to think long and hard about what subject to go into and how a degree in that subject might lead to a job, now they can undertake a degree apprenticeship and be placed in the workplace instantly. Degree apprenticeships offer learners an ‘in’ from the beginning and many continue to work for their chosen employer beyond their 3 or 4 year-long apprenticeship.

Launched by the government in 2015, degree apprenticeships have been slow to start, but there is still a gradual increase in popularity. There are now around 75 higher and degree level apprenticeships to choose from, Simon Ashworth on behalf of the Department of Education told delegates at the AELP Universities Summit 2018 that there were now 40 standards at a level 6 or 7, of which 29 included degrees.

There has now been over 6,600 degree apprenticeships started since their introduction, with the first group of degree apprentices in the UK graduating in July 2017. Seven out of the eleven of these graduated with first class honours and hope that these outstanding results will encourage more young people to consider this route instead of the standard university degree.

The Department of Education has four strategic objectives for degree apprenticeships

  • Progression
  • Skills needs of employers
  • Widen participation
  • More quality apprenticeships

Employers have the power to meet these objectives yet not everyone is taking advantage of the apprenticeship levy. Employers or ‘trailblazers’ as they were originally named, are at the forefront of degree apprenticeships, they are the creators of their apprenticeships, with each standard covering specific knowledge, skills and behaviours directly related to their occupation. Each apprenticeship combines 80% work placed learning and earning with 20% off the job training, to maintain a balance of industry expertise and a wider knowledge.

Published by the Department of Education, the Apprenticeship Evaluation Report 2017 found employers are more likely to proactively recommend apprenticeships to other employers than in previous years. Employers biggest positives included development of skills relevant to the organisation, improved productivity and a better quality of product or service.

For employers, having an apprentice seems to be a great choice, a good way of spending the levy and beneficial to the growth of the company, but why should universities or training providers bother?

Degree apprenticeships promote wider participation for those seeking on the job learning and business engagement. They offer a chance to create further skills within the industry, which can be beneficial to local and regional employers who can go on to hire graduated apprentices.

Some students may not have reached high enough grades to gain a university place, degree apprenticeships give these students a chance to continue into higher education and gain higher, more relevant skills in their chosen industry. Apprenticeships are a great way to build revenue and attract a new pool of talent. Not only this, but they attract a different learner, one that is willing to work hard for the degree but wants to be without a mounting debt at the end of their 4 years.

‘We see degree apprenticeships as attracting back the part-time students, especially the mature learners and those from lower socio-economic groups who are traditionally debt adverse. It will give them a huge step up in the local jobs market.’ – Viki Faulkner, Head of Apprenticeships, University of Brighton.

As with other apprenticeships, the cost is split between the government and employers, meaning apprentices on degree level courses can gain a bachelors or masters, then leave the course debt free – an option desired by many who consider university fees to put them off going.

Amongst the skills learnt specifically to carry out their chosen job role, working as part of learning in a degree apprenticeship environment also allows employers to transfer skills needed to succeed in any business environment. Young recruits who are fresh out of university or school may not have these desired skills, such as; effective teamwork, problem-solving, communication or negotiation skills, all of which can be learnt during an apprenticeship with ease.

Whether you are a university, training provider or employer, offering degree apprenticeships seems like a win-win. Employers can use their levy tax to fund them and universities can broaden their pool of learners. Training providers should be encouraging young apprentices to partake in degree apprenticeships – they may be the future of our workforce.