Alternative routes
Degree apprenticeships

Degree Apprenticeships at leading universities

One of the subjects we’ve been asked about most just recently is Degree Apprenticeships. What are they? Are they right for your students? And how do your students apply for them?

Degree Apprenticeships are still relatively new. Many young people don’t know much about them but as time goes by the word is starting to spread about these exciting new qualifications. Thanks to these new programmes, it’s possible to both complete an apprenticeship and achieve a degree level qualification at the same time.

What are degree apprenticeships?

The Government classifies all qualifications on a nine level scale. Whilst many apprenticeships are available at the lower end of this scale, Degree Apprenticeships feature either at Level 6 (equivalent to a undergraduate Batchelor’s degree) or Level 7 (equivalent to a Master’s degree). They are not to be confused with Higher Apprenticeships, which typically feature at Level 4 (one level above A Level).

Like all apprenticeships, Degree Apprenticeships involve a combination of work and study. Degree Apprentices will be employed by a company (or other organisation) and will spend most of their time working whilst learning on the job with their colleagues. Apprentices will work for at least 30 hours per week and at least 30 weeks per year. They’ll also spend some time at university, and might spend some time studying online, for example. Every course is structured differently, students might spend a certain number of days per week at university (typically one) or be released for longer “blocks” of study on campus.

As workers, apprentices will get paid a salary and for many the most eye-catching aspect of the deal is that there are no university tuition fees to pay. Apprenticeships are available in a diverse range of different sectors, such as financial services, automotive engineering and nursing. In researching this article I had a quick look myself to see the sorts of opportunities which are currently being advertised. Within minutes I had found opportunities advertised at Lloyd’s Banking Group, Unilever, Vodafone, Caterpillar, Astrazeneca, the Met Office and Transport for London. Typical salaries ranged from £17,000 to £24,000. Different apprenticeships can take different amounts of time, but typically they run for between three and six years.

How do students know whether a Degree Apprenticeship is right for them?

Attitudes towards apprenticeships are (rightly) changing. Gone are the days when apprenticeships were seen as an option for those who were “not academic enough” to pursue the degree route. High achieving students should consider a Degree Apprenticeship as a viable alternative to a more traditional degree, however at the same time they need to know what an apprenticeship entails and make sure that it is the best fit for them.

One thing that’s important to stress is that an apprentice is a worker who does some studying, not a student who does some work. For those interested in the latter, there are more suitable options such as standard degrees involving work placements or “sandwich degrees” with a year in industry.

Your students need to ask themselves whether they want the lifestyle associated with being an employee or that associated with being a student. Both have their pros and cons. Employees need to be arriving for work nice and early every day, they get fewer holidays than students but they typically have a bit more money in their pocket. Students often enjoy a little more flexibility in terms of how they structure their own time and workload. They get long holidays which they might use for travelling, but do typically borrow money to finance their studies. Students might find it easier to fully immerse themselves in campus life, for example living in halls of residence and joining societies. Apprentices might be more likely to live at home and have slightly less time for extra-curricular activities. Students may have the luxury of forgetting about the world of work and focusing on an academic discipline they’re passionate about, apprenticeships however suit those who just want to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. The pros and cons of vocational versus academic routes should also be considered. A more vocational route can help a young person to reach their career goals more quickly, but at the same time young people must make sure they don’t end up getting railroaded in to a job which isn’t suitable for them. Some young people need a bit more time to think about which career is really best for them.

The issue of money

Think carefully about how you discuss the issue of money with your students.

On the one hand, apprentices are doubly advantaged money-wise when compared against students. Not only do they avoid tuition fees, they also get to earn a salary too. We often forget about this additional hidden cost of university – as well as incurring financial costs students also pay in terms of the “opportunity cost” associated with being out of the workplace and foregoing potential earnings for three (or more) years. However, you might wish to correct your students if they claim that they would “save” £9,250 per year by doing an apprenticeship. This is the amount typically borrowed, not always the amount paid back. Only a percentage of students will pay back their tuition fee loans in full, so thinking in terms of a “sticker price” cost for degrees can be misleading.

Students should also always be encouraged to make the decision which is best for themselves, not what is best for their parents. Young people should feel entitled to go and study for a degree if this is what they want to do, they should not feel obligated to start contributing to the household finances at age 18.

How (and when) should students apply?

Applying for an apprenticeship isn’t all that different from applying for a job. There are many different places where they can be advertised, and no particular time of year at which one has to apply. Those who are expecting the predictability of the UCAS process will be disappointed.

Vacancies won’t necessarily be advertised in the autumn and Year 13 students might have to wait in to the new year to apply at certain companies. It’s worth pointing out though that there is nothing to stop students going through the UCAS application process and applying for Degree Apprenticeships as well if they wish to hedge their bets.

Students should be encouraged to consult a range of different sources in their search for a Degree Apprenticeship opportunity. The following list should get them started:

> The Government’s Find an apprenticeship website
> Rate My Apprenticeship
> Employers’ websites
> University websites

Which Russell Group universities are offering Degree Apprenticeships?

Degree Apprenticeships are available at a wide range of different universities, however we’d thought we’d provide some case studies of Degree Apprenticeships by showcasing some of the opportunities which are currently on offer at some of our university partners (note that the opportunities available can change rapidly!):

> Queen Mary University of London have recently advertised for apprentices on two programmes - “Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (Social Change)” and “Digital and Technology Solutions Professional (Software Engineer)”. Employers they have collaborated with recently include Mind, Water Aid and Bloomberg

> The University of Exeter have developed a five year Civil Engineering Degree Apprenticeship programme delivered in partnership with a group of employers including Laing O’Rourke. Vacancies have also been advertised for an Applied Finance apprenticeship in association with J.P. Morgan. This typically takes four years

> The University of Birmingham have recently advertised for Degree Apprentices for a BSc in Computer Science with Digital Technology. This is a four year programme and opportunities have been available with both Vodafone and PwC.

> The University of Leeds is advertising for a Nursing Associate Foundation Degree Apprenticeship. This is a two year programme with half of each year of the course being clinically based.

> The University of Warwick has approved a wide range of degree apprenticeships from Engineering with Dyson through to a BA in Social Work

Where can I find out more?

Here is just a small sample of the wealth of information which is available on this topic:

> Which? University apprenticeships guide
> National Apprenticeship Helpdesk: 0800 015 0400
> Government information page
> Degree apprenticeships on UCAS
> Institute for Apprenticeships
> University of Birmingham slides about Degree Apprenticeships


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