College HE and Higher Level Apprenticeships

In August the results of the annual National Student Survey (NSS), which gathers students’ opinions on the quality of their HE course, were published. As with last year, colleges delivering HE courses did well. A total of 30 institutions achieved the highest possible score of 100%, of which eight were further education colleges and two were sixth-form colleges. Overall, the survey indicates high levels of satisfaction with courses generally. Although there are still some concerns about assessment and feedback.

On the subject of college HE, the Education and Training Foundation's report, released over the summer, reveals how colleges play an important role in improving the accessibility of HE study. Full-time learners at FE colleges are almost twice as likely to come from areas with traditionally low rates of HE participation as those studying at HEIs. The report also highlights that colleges play a crucial role in helping to upskill their local communities. In 2015-16, colleges recruited almost 80% of their HE students from within the college’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) area, compared with 37% for universities. Colleges are also helping to address skills gaps. For example, enrolments on STEM programmes in colleges at levels 4 and 5 have grown by 5.7% in the past three years. With the focus in the press and government circles on going to “university”, college HE is often overlooked. We need to remember the important role it has in improving social mobility and upskilling the workforce along with the fact that nearly one in ten HE learners are studying in colleges, and include the option of college HE in conversations with learners about their future plans post-level 3. 

Turning to apprenticeships, just 15% of levy-funded apprentices to date (May-end of July 2017) are aged 16 to 18, according to government statistics published last week by the Department for Education. While it is worth noting that the statistics, which are described as experimental, do not reflect all apprenticeship starts since May - as they only cover apprenticeships in levy-funded companies that use the apprenticeship service - this doesn’t bode well in terms of the government’s election manifesto commitment of creating 3 million apprenticeships for young people by 2020.

A significant proportion then of apprenticeship starts are undertaken by existing employees in the workplace. While this may well provide new opportunities for upskilling the existing workforce, which is to be encouraged, we also need government to provide sufficient incentive for employers, both large and small, to take on young people as apprentices.

Focusing in on degree apprenticeship (DA) and higher apprenticeship (HA) opportunities in Greater London, a quick search using the find an apprenticeship service and the UCAS apprenticeship vacancy search tool, 62 HA and 4 DA apprenticeship vacancies were advertised (13/9/13) on the former and 68 combined HA and DA apprenticeship vacancies were found on the latter. While the number of HA vacancies have held up over the last 6 months, the number of new DA vacancies has actually fallen post levy introduction.

In the continued absence of the long awaited government Careers Strategy I’d like to recommend an article by Deidre Hughes Careers Work in England’s Schools, Politics, Practices and prospects which came out in July. It describes the present system for support for careers work in England as “chaotic and congested” – and I think that’s putting it politely.  On the matter of improving careers advice, Teach First have recently published a report entitled Impossible? Beyond Access: Getting to University and Succeeding There. One of its recommendations is to improve careers advice for students from disadvantaged backgrounds through a dedicated Careers Leader in every school trained via an apprenticeship, funded through the money that local authorities and academy trusts are now required to set aside for the apprenticeship levy.