Degree Apprenticeships and Their Impact on Improving Social Mobility

January saw the release of the latest apprenticeship starts figures and the publication of the Degree Apprenticeships Up to Standard? report by the Higher Education Commission. Both publications have led to growing concerns that apprenticeships aren’t having the desired impact in terms of providing opportunities for young aspiring apprentices, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds.

While the latest apprenticeship start figures show a 15% increase on the same period last year (August-October), when compared over a longer time frame this figure represents a decrease of 15.2% and 13.8% compared to this time in 2016/17 and 2015/16, before the introduction of the apprenticeship levy. It also shows that the number of those aged 25+ starting apprenticeships has increased by 43% this quarter while under-19 starts have declined by 2%. This is part of an ongoing trend which has seen starts among the youngest apprentices fall by 23% over the last four years – a higher proportion than any other age group.

When focusing on degree apprenticeships (DAs) the HE Commission report expresses concern in terms of social mobility about a about a lack of opportunities, particularly for young disadvantaged people, outside of large conurbations.  It also raises concerns about a “middle class grab” of degree apprenticeships.

What can be done then to improve the number of young people, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, embarking on DAs? At the risk of stating the obvious we need more employers prepared to take on more young apprentices. Numbers of DAs, while growing, are still limited in number. Some larger employers have simply re-packaged their graduate schemes as DAs while others offer them to existing staff.  Our own mapping of externally advertised vacancies in Greater London indicates that numbers have yet to recover from pre-Levy introduction levels. The HE Commission report makes a number of recommendations to help increase the number of DAs, including removing barriers and encouraging employers, particularly SMEs to offer them. As highlighted in the report, one key aspect is that employers should be able to use the apprenticeship Levy more flexibly, to enable employers the opportunity to offer incremental learning opportunities at level 4 and above, leading onto a degree but with “stop off points” where desired. We also need to find ways to incentivise employers to take on young apprentices, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds. At present, there are no requirements for employers to use a proportion of the Levy to recruit apprentices, as opposed to putting existing employees on apprenticeships, including DAs, as many have done so.

We also need a UCAS-style applications portal for apprenticeships, as has been talked about for several years. Our experience of mapping higher and degree apprenticeship vacancies in Greater London over the past 18 months and discussions with careers advisers in partner colleges has highlighted the challenges in finding vacancies, in the absence of a centralised source of information. (Interestingly, the Chief Executive of UCAS recently stated that the service needs more government funding to deliver an apprenticeship application portal). Would be apprentices, especially those form disadvantaged backgrounds, also need support, not only to track down vacancies, but also in preparing effectively for the selection process, which may include, in addition to the application form and/or CV, online tests, assessment centres, group and 1-1 interviews.

If we are to measure degree apprenticeships in terms of improving social mobility we need accurate, up to date and detailed data. As the HE Commission report highlights, there is a lack of demographic data on those who embark on degree apprenticeships. The latest OfS data, published last Autumn, only covers the period 2016/17, which makes drawing any firm conclusions at this stage on the impact degree apprenticeships have had on addressing skills shortages or in contributing to improving social mobility difficult.


Hello Readers

The summer is nearly over, and the Linking London office is gearing up for a brand new term of staff development events. Yet though term is yet to begin, the news never sleeps, and so we once more have collated a summary of the week’s educational news for your reading pleasure.


Once again apprenticeships are making headlines: FE Week reported that 16-18 apprentices have had their funding cut by roughly 30%, with learners in more deprived areas of London seeing cuts of up to 50%.This revelation led former HE minister, David Lammy, to criticise the Prime Minister (again in FE Week), describing the cuts as “devastating for young people in deprived areas”.

Linking London has also noticed a decrease in sponsored degree programmes, with providers reclassifying their ‘work and learn’ qualifications as apprenticeships to avoid the new levy.  If the government’s apprenticeship target is only met by reclassifying existing programmes and cutting funds to others then surely the achievement will be undermined by the cost?

Progress 8

GCSEs have featured heavily in the press over the last week, partly due to results day, but also because of the new GCSE grading system, Progress 8, since the first qualifications under the new scheme are due to be awarded next year.  The Telegraph dedicated a feature to the new grading system, explaining the relationship between the previous A-C  grades and the new numerical ones:

“It is thought that roughly the same number of students will achieve a grade 4 and above as currently achieve a grade C and above, while the top 20 per cent of those who get a grade 7 and above, will get a grade 9. Grade 5 – equivalent to a low B or high C – will be the new benchmark for a “good pass” required by league tables, where currently the required grade is C.”

When mapping 2017 entry criteria Linking London has noticed some institutions equating 4 as the C ‘baseline’ equivalent, and others cite 5 as the criteria. When unis compare A-C grades with 1-9 ones who will the comparison benefit? Will it be easier or harder to achieve the grade necessary to progress to FE, and thus HE? Only time will tell. If you want to know more about Progress 8, TES have created a guide to the new qualification.


London is officially the most educated city in Europe, according to the BBC. In terms of graduate numbers “It is above anywhere in the European Union and unlike anywhere else in the United Kingdom”. We have always known London was an intellectual hub, but it is heartening to have our thoughts confirmed. Linking London exists to support institutions in the capital, who in turn support these vast quantities of students, gradually increasing social mobility through the power of education.

More from the team next week.


Hello Readers

Though most of the headlines over the past week have been devoted to the Olympic gold-medal-rush (congratulations Team GB), hidden amongst the column inches devoted to sporting spectacle have been some education stories which could have huge implications for our sector. This week our blog unpacks some of the biggest education stories of the past seven days.

National Student Survey

The results of HEFCE’s 2016 National Student Survey were published last week, with 86% of undergraduates in the final year of Higher Education responding that they are satisfied with their university programme. Out of Linking London’s partners, the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama was within the top 20 institutions for student satisfaction, and UEL were named as having one of the largest increases in satisfaction year on year (up 5%).

Several Further Education Colleges achieved 100% student satisfaction for their HE provision. Many of Linking London’s FEC partners provide Higher Education qualifications, and we hope this success in the National Student Survey will shine a brighter light on the importance of the provision colleges offer for HE students. Our colleagues as the Association of Colleges were also thrilled, with David Corke, Director of Education Policy at the AoC, stating on the their site:

“The colleges that provide higher education work very hard to ensure they are providing a quality service to their students and the local community and it is gratifying to see that students themselves say they are pleased with the education they receive.”

Apprenticeship Levy Update

On Friday the government published guidance on how the new Apprenticeship Levy would operate. The update is available to read in full here. TES have also published a handy 9 point guide to the update and its implications for the sector. Although the report indicates the levy is still set to be introduced next April, FE Week has reported that the CBI’s director for employment and skills doubts the new system will be ready for successful delivery by the deadline.

Our NNCO website HECAIL contains a free guide to Degree and Higher Apprenticeships, while Linking London members can access the partner area of our website to find our other published resources on Apprenticeships.

A Level Results Day

As we all know, A Level results day is fast approaching this week, and many publications have featured stories telling students how to survive the day – whether their results are better or worse than expected.  The Independent’s ‘A-level results day: the 5 things students should not do’ could be useful for advisers who are trying to calm anxious students, and the Guardian has a feature dedicated to Clearing success stories which some may find helpful. For readers seeking a summary of UCAS Clearing and UCAS Extra, we have a guide available in the ‘After Application’ section of our NNCO website.

That’s all our headlines for this week, more news from us to come next Monday.