degree apprenticeshipsRecent research by Which? shows that only 36 per cent of school or college leavers felt well informed about apprenticeships, compared to 94 per cent who felt well informed about university. Why is this? And what can we do to spread the word about degree apprenticeships?

Degree apprenticeships were first introduced in 2015 and, in the academic year 2016-17, 1,670 people started undertaking a degree apprenticeship. Recent data shows that this has risen to 11,600 people in the academic year 2017-18.

Although interest is increasing, one of the key challenges of offering degree apprenticeships is a lack of awareness of the programmes among individuals and employers. The National Apprenticeship Service recently announced 3,000 new higher and degree apprenticeship vacancies with some of the UK’s biggest employers. As opportunities in this area become more readily available, is this message reaching those who could benefit from them the most?

Who needs to know? And what do they need to know?


Degree apprentices are employed for a minimum of 30 hours per week. Learning fits flexibly around that work commitment through block release, distance, or blended learning. This may be more appealing to school leavers, who are better suited to a more vocational learning style, as well as those already in employment.

According to a report by the Associate of Graduate Recruiters (now the Institute of Student Employers (ISE)), employers receive an average of 68 applications per graduate vacancy compared to just 19 per apprenticeship vacancy. By following the apprenticeship route, young people are potentially increasing their chances of getting a job. Do prospective applicants realise that choosing this option could have a real impact on their employment prospects?

As awareness of degree apprenticeships increases, they could be useful in addressing social mobility by providing another route into higher education. There is little data on degree apprenticeship applications at this stage, so it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions on applicant characteristics in terms of background and prior learning. For apprenticeships to have an impact on social mobility, though, it is essential that we ensure that information on this option reaches the ears of those who aren’t aware they exist.

The government’s Find an Apprenticeship tool is a good place to start when thinking about applying for a degree apprenticeship. UCAS also provides information on how to find a degree apprenticeship. Schools and colleges have useful resources for offering advice on degree apprenticeship routes, and many employers advertise opportunities directly through recruitment channels.


The Chartered Management Institute found that 61 per cent of parents surveyed would rather their child took a degree apprenticeship with a major company than study for a degree at Oxford or Cambridge. Value for money is clearly a key influence too, with 62 per cent of parents saying that, if money were no object, they would still prefer that their child undertakes a degree apprenticeship than study for a degree at any university.

A recent blog post by HEFCE’s Dr Brooke Storer-Church gives more information on why parents might consider a degree apprenticeship as the best option for their child. Parents can also download a guide from the National Apprenticeship Service, which outlines information on apprenticeships.


Twenty per cent of the UK’s productivity gap is due to employers being unable to recruit people with the right skills, according to the UKCES Employer Skills Survey 2015. Some of the first degree apprenticeships are in digital, engineering, and construction subject areas, where employers experience the greatest skills shortages. Working with apprentices gives direct access to a trained and engaged workforce.

Many degree apprenticeship standards are in development for professions such as policing, nursing and social work. This could help public sector bodies in England meet the government target that requires at least 2.3 per cent of their workforce to be on an apprenticeship by 2020.

According to UUK, employers are calling for more information on the programmes that are available and how to set one up. A report from ISE states that whilst the demand from employers is clear, the market is dominated by larger employers who have been delivering apprenticeships for a long time. Another report, from the CBI, states that ‘many companies lack understanding of how the current skills system works. This limits their engagement and investment in it, as well as understanding of the role they could play.’

For insight on the benefits for employers of degree apprenticeship, read Mike Thompson’s recent blog on why they work so well for Barclays.


Almost 100 UK higher education providers are now on the Register of Approved Training Providers, giving them the potential to reap the benefits of delivering degree apprenticeships, such as improved relationships with employers and the local area. In their report, UUK recommends that universities take full advantage of any existing outreach channels to raise awareness of degree apprenticeships in schools, colleges, and businesses alike.

To support institutions, we work with the University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) to develop and deliver guidance for those institutions entering and operating within this landscape.

Browse the current support programme to view previous webinars or register for upcoming events.

Apprenticeships and the Office for Students

On 1 April HEFCE’s responsibilities for degree apprenticeships will transfer to the Office for Students (OfS), which will have additional regulatory powers.

Nicola Turner, Head of Skills at HEFCE, says:

“Apprenticeships fit well with the mission of the newly formed Office for Students: diversifying the types of high quality provision available and increasing choice for how someone might choose to study at higher education level.

“Degree apprenticeships can offer a debt-free route into graduate occupations, and boost national productivity by addressing costly skills gaps. Although it is early in the data story, emerging evidence suggests that degree apprenticeships appeal to a broader range of people than traditional undergraduate routes and are attracting more females into STEM occupations.”

See all blog posts on apprenticeships