Degree apprenticeships – new possibilities

Several things make this research promising to undertake at this time. One is the extension of apprenticeships in the UK to include higher level and significantly, degree apprenticeships. The latter include a degree within the taught element of the apprenticeship, thus opening up the potential for reversing the historic undervaluing of vocational education in the UK, and particularly England.

Billet (2016) has noted that apprenticeships are often looked upon with distain, and linked this with the societal governance origin of the training in England, which was first conceived as a method of taking poor, orphaned and illegitimate children ‘off the parish’ as part of the 1601 Poor Law. Coupled with this, a tradition of class-prejudice which valued the qualifications only open to the rich, at that time degrees, over any other, led to the situation bluntly described by one ex-civil servant under the Thatcher government as ‘education for other people’s children’ which was of little interest to politicians because they didn’t know anyone of their class who had taken an apprenticeship.

With the introduction of higher and degree level apprenticeships, the widening of Higher Education in the UK, and the expectation that most young people will enter HE, there is an opportunity for this trend to be reversed, and for new models of apprenticeship to become mainstream, and on an equal par to degrees.

Whether that happens or not may well be a combination of how the new apprenticeships, now funded by a bursary to employers which is ring-fenced for training, are received, with some early indications that employers have not adequately prepared for the changes, and the extent of uptake and quality of the training provided.

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