Apprenticeship and Higher Education – Two Cultures?
Apprenticeship is focused on the employer and development of an occupationally competent employee. Higher education is focused on the student. Apprenticeship is a vocational programme in contrast a degree is an academic programme of study. An Apprenticeship is first and foremost a job; higher education involves full-time or part-time study. The successful outcome of an Apprenticeship is occupational competence; a degree is awarded on successful completion of an academic programme of study.
As the chief executive of the representative organisation championing university engagement in Apprenticeship I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with any of the above descriptions. I would, however, say that like life, it’s a little bit more complicated and Apprenticeship and Higher Education are not the two opposites they may initially seem.
From a policy perspective Apprenticeship in England is clearly an employer led programme focused on developing the occupational competence of new and existing employees. The development and accreditation of occupational competence isn’t, however, a new concept to higher education. There are a range of occupations where a degree recognises and accredits occupational competence and confers a license to practice, nursing and social work being good examples. In other occupations an accredited degree acts as an essential milestone on the journey to occupational competence and professional accreditation and membership, good examples being engineering and construction occupations.
For a higher education programme the student is the central focus – the name of the higher education regulator the Office for Students emphasises this point! But then again, the schools and further education inspectorate, Ofsted with its remit for Apprenticeships at levels 2 – 5 (4 and 5 shared with OfS) focuses through the Common (soon to be Education) Inspection Framework on the learner. So the student and learner are central to all Apprenticeships in terms of quality assurance. An Apprentice, of course, must be an employee. Some would argue that a learner is an employee first and a student second. I’d profoundly disagree and would argue being an employee and a student are central and essential characteristics of being a Degree Apprentice. A Degree Apprentice has the right to benefit from and as much to gain from the wider ‘student experience’ as a full-time student. Personally I don’t think enough is made of the benefits of the link to the research agenda, being part of a community of learners and student activities.
Although to some extent different the needs of an employer and individual in a good apprenticeship shouldn’t be contradictory. Take a Degree Apprenticeship, for an employer ensuring an individual acquires occupational competence is the priority. The degree within the Apprenticeship may also, however, attract a wider range of potential employees, benefiting the employer. The transferable and academic skills developed through the degree, while of significant benefit to an individual, could also help an individual in their employment in both the short and long-term. Unlike most Apprenticeships a degree has national and international acceptance and transferability.
In terms of focus a Degree Apprenticeship is both an academic and a vocational programme. A Degree Apprenticeship knocks on the head the English idea of dividing individuals into those who succeed at school and progress to university and those that don’t undertake vocational training and Apprenticeship. A Degree Apprenticeship represents excellence in academic and vocational learning.
Of course HEI must adapt to deliver Degree Apprenticeship. The Apprenticeship system is further education based with processes like the ILR that are alien to higher education. Delivery of Apprenticeship must be focused on the Apprenticeship standard and assessment plan and delivered in accordance with the ESFA Funding Rules; key requirements include initial assessment, employed status and 20% off the job. Indeed, delivery of a Degree Apprenticeship will require new approaches from not only those in HE delivering the programme, but from finance, legal, registry, quality colleagues etc.
So does Degree Apprenticeship represent a cultural change for universities if it is to be a long-term higher education offering? If so what will this entail?
Through the Edge Foundation research project launched this year, UVAC will be inviting comments and suggestions from HE colleagues on how HEIs can develop a sustainable Apprenticeship culture in higher education. We’d welcome your views. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07542 638748.