Westminster Higher Education Forum

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Degree apprenticeships in England - next steps for awareness and access, quality and standards, inspection, and contribution to economic recovery

May 2021

Price: £95 PLUS VAT

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***
This conference is examining the next steps for degree apprenticeships.

It will be an opportunity to consider key issues in the context of a range of policy and sector developments affecting degree apprenticeships, including:

  • the Skills for Jobs White Paper - introducing wide-ranging reforms in post-16 education and training, along with the Strategic Development Fund and Lifetime Skills Guarantee
  • the IAfTE’s degree apprenticeship review 2021 - which will look at broadening the range of occupations, branding of degree apprenticeships, and quality and standards
  • increased funding to employers for apprenticeships in the Spring Budget
  • inspection by Ofsted of level 6 and 7 apprenticeships from April 2021
  • adjustments to end point assessments, and the use of remote learning and assessments during the pandemic

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 discussion is bringing together stakeholders with key policy officials who are due to attend from DfE; the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education; the Cabinet Office; the College of Agriculture, Food & Rural Enterprise; DAERA, NI; DIT; DWP; the Department for the Economy, NI; the Government Legal Department; and the UK Space Agency.

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, as well as 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 the 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 disparities 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 developing 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
  • Budget 2021 - including increased funding to employers for apprenticeships, as well as for the establishment of new ones
  • Universities Minister at UCAS's Annual Admissions Conference - commenting that the availability and options for degree apprenticeships need to be developed further, in particular to meet students’ demand for subject choices and further industry needs, and asking for more universities to consider degree apprenticeships
  • 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
  • The report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities - recommending:
    • seeking further understanding of the achievements and successes of particular communities, and how this can be replicated
    • stronger guidance from the OfS on HEIs funding outreach, aiming to affect application rates
    • a targeted campaign promoting apprenticeships in growth sectors, hoping to benefit disadvantaged and discriminated against young people in particular
      • with the Black Training and Enterprise Group claiming that this avoids tackling discriminatory recruitment practices in a number of sectors
  • 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
    • findings that:
      • degree level apprenticeships are concentrated in the most affluent geographic areas while the larger number of other apprenticeships are in deprived localities
      • that 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 Cabinet Office; the College of Agriculture, Food & Rural Enterprise; DAERA, NI; the Department for Education; the Department for International Trade; the DWP; the Department for the Economy, NI; the Government Legal Department; the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education; and the UK Space Agency.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government officials in this area of public policy, together with other stakeholders from across the higher education sector, including university leaders, lecturers and lecturer groups, programme administrators, students and student unions, skills and training platforms, scientific and technical bodies, trade and professional groups, academic researchers, as well as reporters from the national and specialist media.

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

Shortly after every Westminster Higher Education Forum seminar, a briefing document is produced. This is distributed to all delegates on the day as well as to our policymaker contacts in government, and to stakeholders more widely.

A seminar publication provides a timely record of proceedings, and acts as a guide to the latest thinking on current policy issues for those unable to be at the event.

This publication includes


Contributions from keynotes and panellists, including accompanying slides*
*Subject to approval

Delegate Pack

Information from the day, including delegate list, biographies and agenda


Transcript of questions and comments posed to speakers from attending delegates


Supplementary articles from speakers
and delegates