Posted : 17 days ago by Mandy Crawford-Lee

University Cuts to Boost Apprenticeships: What’s Wrong with the Conservative’s Plans? UVAC RESPONSE

University Cuts to Boost Apprenticeships: What’s Wrong with the Conservative’s Plans? UVAC RESPONSE

This week has seen a Conservative Party pledge. This is our response to it.

England needs both excellent university provision and an excellent apprenticeship programme, if we want to raise business performance, productivity and economic performance.  Cutting university provision to fund an extra 100,000 apprenticeship places as Rishi Sunak has proposed is not the way forward.  In considering the Conservative Party’s announcement, which made front-page news, it is useful to note:

           The Government collects substantially more in England through the Apprenticeship Levy than it spends on apprenticeship – Since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in 2017, almost £2.5 billion[1] of levy funds raised have been retained or returned to the Treasury, rather than spent on apprenticeship.  Government does not need to cut spending on higher education to increase funding for apprenticeships.  Instead each party should do the right thing and pledge to employers that every pound raised through the levy should be spent on apprenticeships or apprenticeships and approved training programmes.

–           The Fastest Growing Type of Apprenticeship are Degree Apprenticeships – The choice is not university or apprenticeship.  Degree Apprenticeships combine the best of both worlds, a degree and an apprenticeship.  A Degree Apprentice has a job, a good salary and follows a training programme where through the degree an individual gains the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to be occupationally competent.  Degree Apprenticeships with the highest take up include programmes for registered nurses, police constables, social workers, teachers and digital technology specialists.  Government should be encouraging and supporting universities to offer more Degree Apprenticeships.  Indeed during the last year, the Government has actually funded and supported universities to grow the number of Degree Apprenticeships.

–           We need to Celebrate not Denigrate our University Sector – If the Conservatives are serious about tackling the UK’s low productivity and grow the economy, they need to utilise the expertise of our universities to develop the higher-level skills of the current and future workforce.

Of course no one should defend poor courses with poor outcomes.  The debate however, needs to be serious and evidence based.  The Conservative Party is right in that more needs to be done to boost apprenticeship, particularly Higher and Degree Apprenticeships where skills gaps are so apparent in the economy and public sector.  Universities also need to do more to engage in the development and delivery of Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs).  The Conservatives are wrong to portray university and apprenticeship as an either or – they are not – Degree Apprenticeship combine a degree and an apprenticeship.  Any future government that wants to raise business performance and productivity must engage with and utilise the strengths of the university sector to train and develop the skills of the current and future workforce.

[1] Billy Camden, Apprenticeship Levy turns into Treasury ‘cash cow’, FE Week, 29 September 2023

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