Edge Foundation Research – Sustainable Degree Apprenticeships

Project Overview

Announced 26 March 2019: A Middlesex University led consortium of Sheffield Hallam and Staffordshire Universities and the University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) has been awarded a grant of £99,000 by education charity the Edge Foundation, for research into the provision of degree apprenticeships. One of only 11 projects funded.

The consortium will develop a network of Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) to develop sustainable degree apprenticeships.

See here UVAC’s opinion on the challenge of navigating two cultures – Apprenticeship and Higher Education – and our plans to seek the HE view on how to achieve a legacy and sustainable future for Apprenticeships.

Name of the Project

Creating institutional conditions for sustainable degree apprenticeships


Through the establishment of a HEI Apprenticeship Network investigate and secure the best conditions for sustainability of degree apprenticeships

Description and what it will achieve

Degree apprenticeships have the potential to transform the status and value of vocational higher education as the flagship for the Government’s apprenticeship policy while delivering the increase in productivity and social mobility that are the goals of apprenticeship reforms. The ‘degree’ in degree apprenticeships is highly valued by employers, prospective apprentices and their parents yet the very concept is under threat.

This project investigates what practices and structures will enable the provision of degree apprenticeships to be sustainable and successful with HEIs, employers and sector and policy leaders. The premise is that ad hoc additions to existing curriculum, pedagogy and structures of HEIs are not likely to be sufficient to build the dialogue, trust and behaviours needed for sustainability to respond to the challenges of operating in new and often contested terrain.

It will do this through advocating a whole institutional approach to practice-based higher education. The investigation conducted in collaboration with UVAC will be wide (survey) and deep (interviews with a range of stakeholders) and articulate the findings in terms of form, structure, equity, diversity and the culture of HEIs. This will provide a practical focus for a new network of Centres of Apprenticeships within HEIs.

Why the need?

The advent of degree apprenticeships has the potential to transform our cultural understanding of the role of HEIs, professional associations and employers, placing learning at the centre of our working lives enabled by integrative models of co-creation, aligning the learning worlds of work and higher education. Degree apprenticeships creatively disrupt our understanding of the relationship between higher education and work.

Assumptions about the presumed differences between academic and professional standards, knowledge and behaviours, on-and off-the-job learning, are all challenged by the introduction of degree apprenticeships. New thinking about the roles and responsibilities of HEIs and employers in developing and delivering degree apprenticeships presents an opportunity for sustainable collaboration. However, we believe that without a good understanding of the significant challenges that face HEIs there is a high risk of policy failure. This research offers to find answers and build links between providers in order to be agents of change.

What will be the outcome?

  • The report on the appreciative culture needed and structures conducive for the adoption of HEIs which are responsive to the demand of the economy. Alongside the report there will be produced, and disseminated, artefacts of change. This outcome’s audiences are policy makers, institutional heads and employers.The report will be based on research in three sectors, three universities and a range of stakeholders including employers, sector leads, policy makers, students and university management or teachers. The report will be independent (directed by an independent panel drawn from employers, Edge and UVAC), explicit and contextualised.
  • Dissemination seminars in London, Staffordshire and Sheffield where stakeholders will be invited to develop the ideas and support their local centres of apprenticeships and with the use of wide-ranging media options (academic, trade and popular), the ideas contained in the report will open a radical debate about higher education, how it can be provided and accredited, and by whom. PLUS a national launch of the report findings at the UVAC national conference on Wednesday, 27 November 2019 in Manchester.
  • The creation of a HEI Centre for Apprenticeships; a self-funded research and think-tank network, convened by UVAC. It will offer a strategic exploration of policy, look at structural models for sustained success and curriculum needs to support such models. This new entity will be located within an established vocational advocacy organization. It will be managed by a small board drawn from members, Edge and Government. It will function to develop and advocate the implementation of significant changes in higher education in response to the need for higher education within the challenges of the post-Brexit economy and the new funding recommendations.

Professor Paul Gibbs, Centre for Education Research and Scholarship at the Middlesex University, said,

‘Degree apprenticeships have the potential to transform vocational higher education. They can equip an apprentice with the skills employers need and boost employment prospects. Over 100 Higher Education Providers have successfully applied to be registered providers of apprenticeships. Our project will look at the benefits of degree apprenticeships, develop a support network and identify what changes might be needed for higher education to respond to this exciting and growing area to create opportunities for the current and future workforce.’

The grant is one of just eleven awarded by Edge from a total fund of £1million. The Edge Foundation campaigns for a coherent, holistic and socially equitable education system, to enable all young people to fulfil their potential.

Edge Chief Executive, Alice Barnard, said:

‘Edge has always been an advocate of apprenticeships and we know an increasing number of employers value skills and experience as much, if not more, than qualifications. With a degree and work experience combined, degree apprenticeships offer the best of both worlds and are good news for students and for employers.’

About the Edge Foundation

Edge is an independent education charity which via its research, policy and campaign work, and projects is shaping the future of education.  Edge believes that we all need to be equipped with the skills that today’s global, digital economy demands, through a broad and balanced curriculum, including technical and creative subjects, excellent careers guidance and strong links between employers and education.   Visit www.edge.co.uk to find out more.

Applications to the Grant Fund had to address at least two of the following five funding themes:

  • Improve the design and delivery of engaging and relevant Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance
  • Support the development of Project Based Learning (PBL) and associated profound employer engagement
  • Support the development of a 14-19 curriculum which integrates both academic and technical/professional subjects
  • Support the development of innovative approaches to higher education at levels 4, 5, and 6
  • Ways to measure the performance of technical education.

For further information about the UVAC role in this research and the formation of the Network and Centres for Apprenticeships contact [email protected] OR [email protected]