Westminster Higher Education Forum

Since lockdown, we have been organising our full programme of conferences online. We will continue online until further notice, to ensure we play our part in helping our employees and delegates to remain safe during this time. We are pleased that so many key stakeholders, policymakers and other interested parties - both old friends and new delegates - are taking up the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and network at our impartial seminars. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are. For booking-related queries, or information on speaking, please email us at info@forumsupport.co.uk or contact us using one of the following numbers: +44 (0)7538736244 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7951044809.
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Degree apprenticeships in England - next steps for awareness and access, quality and standards, inspection, and contribution to economic recovery

Morning, Thursday, 6th May 2021

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference is examining the next steps for degree apprenticeships.

Areas for discussion include:

  • learning from the experience of delivering degree apprenticeships during the pandemic
  • widening access to degree apprenticeships
  • streamlining the application process
  • boosting the labour market through degree apprenticeships
  • driving up standards across apprenticeships

The agenda:

  • Priorities for expanding and improving the degree apprenticeship offer
  • Delivering degree apprenticeships during the pandemic - remote learning, end-point assessments, and what can be learned going forward
  • Streamlining the application process and helping students explore wider options
  • Marketing and access - priorities for improving awareness of degree apprenticeships, streamlining applications, the use of the apprenticeship levy, and for tackling inequalities and helping drive social mobility
  • Maximising the contribution of degree apprenticeships to the employment market - identifying key skill shortage areas, improving co-operation between universities and employers, and levelling up locally
  • Driving up standards and ensuring consistency in quality across apprenticeships
  • Inspection of degree apprenticeships - experience so far and outlook going forward

Areas for discussion:

Delivering degree apprenticeships during the pandemic:

  • remote learning and assessment - the experience of carrying out end-point assessments remotely, best practice in safeguarding quality, and reassuring employers of quality assurance
  • redundancies and furloughed apprentices - the impact on apprentices, providers, and employers, and priorities for recovery and preparing for the return to full operation

Widening access - and the potential for driving social mobility:

  • improving awareness:
    • strategies for working with schools and colleges to raise awareness of degree apprenticeships
    • the impact of social distancing and resource pressures on capacity to offer quality career mentoring
    • alternatives such as remote careers guidance and networking opportunities, as well as advertising campaigns
  • parity of esteem - next steps for levelling up both quality and perceptions of degree apprenticeships and academic courses at HEIs
  • promoting diversity - outreach to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as improving take-up amongst ethnic minority and disabled students, and other underrepresented groups
  • the application system - assessing options for simplification of admissions, including for all apprenticeship opportunities to be available from a single platform, and for a single point of admission
  • the apprenticeship levy - options for levelling out the use of the levy to ensure young people from deprived backgrounds are given more opportunities to enrol on degree apprenticeships

Economic recovery and employment:

  • skills gaps:
    • addressing labour market skills shortages - in areas such as construction and data and ensuring the qualifications accurately reflect the needs of the economy
    • employer-led skills development - coordination with the plans outlined in the Skills for Jobs White Paper
    • differences in offering - addressing concern over skews in the skills learned from degree apprenticeships
  • funding challenges - the possible impact of the upcoming apprenticeship levy ‘pledge function’ on levelling out access to funding
  • supporting local and regional growth:
    • improving accessibility - policy priorities for increasing degree level apprenticeship offers and take-up in deprived communities
    • improving coordination with local stakeholders - and opportunities for linking with initiatives to further develop universities and other HEIs as civic institutions offering local benefits
  • involving small businesses:
    • policy priorities for supporting SMEs to engage in degree apprenticeships post-pandemic
    • with figures during the first wave having shown significant drops in apprenticeship vacancies, and of those available only 3% being higher or degree level apprenticeships

Inspections and standards:

  • Ofsted inspections - the experience of providers in transitioning to the new framework
  • the approach to inspections - opportunities for developing mutual agreement on best practice, and ensuring inspections are tailored to meet the specific qualities of degree apprenticeships

The context - recent developments:

  • the Skills for Jobs White Paper - introducing wide-ranging reforms in post-16 education and training, seeking to boost access to re-training later in life and to align the FE system with labour market skills needs, with measures such as:
    • the Strategic Development Fund:
      • £65m for supporting the creation of new College Business Centres
      • aimed at enhancing collaboration between business groups, employers and colleges and develop skills plans for meeting local needs
    • the Lifetime Skills Guarantee - including the offer for adults without a level 3 qualification to complete one for free from April 2021
  • COVID-19 guidance: end-point assessment of apprenticeship standards - from the IAfTE, including:
    • extension of recent flexibilities to EPAs and apprenticeship standards during the pandemic, set to be in place until August 2021
    • including guidance to providers and employers about managing remote assessments
  • inspection - by Ofsted of level 6 and 7 apprenticeships from April 2021
  • the IAfTE’s degree apprenticeship review 2021 - with a consultation due to be carried out in Spring, and with the review seeking to:
    • broaden the range of occupations that can be supported by degree apprenticeship, and help meet employer demand
    • create a distinct brand of degree apprenticeships with clear quality characteristics that can be protected
    • ensure that degree apprenticeships deliver to a high standard for apprentices and employers
  • the apprenticeships admissions system - recent developments including:
    • UCAS announcing it is seeking to build a UK-wide shared admissions portal for apprenticeships to help widen access to apprenticeships and tackle issues around parity of esteem between academic and vocational education
    • Government plans for post-qualification university admissions:
      • announced by the DfE to help level the playing field and make the process fairer
      • including the Post-qualification admissions in higher education: proposed changes consultation
  • Spending Review 2020 - with announcements on apprenticeships, including:
    • the new pledge function enabling unspent apprenticeship levy funds to be transferred to SMEs, to be implemented in August 2021
    • front-loaded training by employers for some apprenticeship standards including construction, social care and health employers from April, with options to be explored for further sectors
    • government considering measures for supporting apprenticeships in industries with flexible working patterns, as well as apprenticeship training agencies
  • inequalities - the Sutton Trust Degree Apprenticeships: Levelling Up? report finding regional and demographic discrepancies in the distribution and take-up of degree apprenticeships, including:
    • concern over businesses using the levy to upskill existing employees instead of giving opportunities to young people from deprived backgrounds
    • degree level apprenticeships are concentrated in the most affluent geographic areas while the larger number of other apprenticeships in deprived localities
    • almost half of the degree apprenticeship cohort consist of chartered management and senior leadership programmes

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from the Department for Education; the Department for International Trade; the DWP; and DAERA. Also due to attend are representatives from De Montfort University; Manchester Metropolitan University; Network Rail; Oxford Professional Education Group; Technical Apprenticeship Consortium; University College Cork; University of Exeter; University of Leeds and UWTSD.

A press pass has been reserved by a representative from Tes.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speaker

John Cope

Director of Strategy, Policy, & Public Affairs, UCAS

Keynote Speakers

Jonathan Mitchell

Deputy Director for Standards Development, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education

John Cope

Director of Strategy, Policy, & Public Affairs, UCAS


Liz Mannion

Careers Leader, Richmond School and Sixth Form College

Susanna Lawson

Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, OneFile

Siobhan Randell

Inclusion and Diversity Lead, Multiverse

Professor Timothy Quine

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education), University of Exeter

Ellie Russell

Deputy Head of Policy, University Alliance

Julia Russell

Apprentice Lead, Renishaw

Gareth Preece

Apprenticeships Project Consultant, New College of the Humanities London, Northeastern University

Rinkal Desai

Senior Teaching Fellow, WMG, University of Warwick

Tom Davidson

Director, Centre for Excellence in Paramedic Practice, University of Cumbria