Degree apprenticeships - widening participation and increasing opportunities

25 October 2023

A new bidding opportunity was launched on 28 September 2023 by the Office for Students (OfS) with the purpose of growing capacity and capability among English higher education providers, enabling them to deliver high quality degree apprenticeships provision that meet skills needs now and in the future. This aims to widen the equality of opportunity in relation to level 6 degree apprenticeships.

The OfS reported that growth in OfS-fundable level 6 degree apprenticeships being started has been uneven across the two most recent years and across the sector. In the years 2019/20 to 2020/21 the number of new starters grew from 6,920 to 10,960, a growth of 58%. In the year between 2020/21 and 2021/22, the number of new starters across the sector grew from 10,960 to 13,510, a growth of only 23%. 

Across the years from 2019/20 to 2021/22 the total growth was 6,590 new starts but the majority of the increase,79% can be attributed to just 24 providers.

Degree apprenticeship programmes enable providers to access a new student market, engage with new businesses, meet employer demand and increase social mobility. As providers now look to diversify their income streams in response to the levelling up agenda, competition for degree apprenticeship programmes will be high.

OfS reported that there are 343 providers in the approved (fee cap) category where 240 are on the apprenticeship provider and assessment register (APAR). Only 99 of these providers   had OfS fundable level 6 degree apprenticeship starters in 2021-22.

Further analysis highlighted that of the 99 providers that have level 6 degree apprenticeship starters in 2021-22, only 41 providers had 100 or more starters.

This new fund is available to providers registered with the OfS. They do not have to be currently delivering degree apprenticeships with specific aims including:

  • expand provision among providers already offering level 6 degree apprenticeships on apprenticeship standards with currently lower uptake; 
  • expand provision of apprenticeship standards with currently lower uptake among providers that are new to the level 6 degree apprenticeships market (strand two); and
  • increase equality of opportunity in level 6 degree apprenticeships (cross-cutting theme).

The delivery of apprenticeship programmes is very different to traditional degree programmes with increased demands contained within the apprenticeship standards. Together with additional regulatory, funding and audit compliance requirements. 

The £40million fund will be split into three waves, with £16m allocated to wave one and the remaining funds to be allocated to waves two and three.

Wave 1

  • Funding to be distributed to individual providers that demonstrate that they can deliver rapid expansion of level 6 degree apprenticeship provision from January 2024, and incur the associated costs before 31 July 2024. 
  • Bids will be accepted from providers that are already offering degree apprenticeship provision or have joined the APAR but are not yet delivering degree apprenticeships. 
  • The minimum funding threshold is £50,000. 
  • The deadline for submission is 17.00 on 20 November 2023.
  • All bids will be considered against three criteria.

Wave 2

  • Funding to be distributed to providers that are already offering degree apprenticeships and are looking to expand provision (strand 1) and providers that are new to the degree apprenticeship market (strand 2).
  • The minimum funding threshold is £50,000. 
  • Associated costs to be spent by 31 July 2025.
  • The deadline for submission is 17.00 on 19 December 2023.
  • All bids will be considered against four criteria.

Wave 3 is due to be launched in May 2024 with all funding to be spent by 31 July 2025.

Full details of the bidding opportunity process and research can be found on the OfS website here.

The apprenticeship market is highly competitive, with a range of opportunities and risks for providers to consider. We have seen challenges in relation to:

  • eligibility including initial assessments and recognition of prior qualifications and experience;
  • contracting and negotiating price; and
  • evidencing the off-the-job training requirements for each aspect of the apprenticeship standard.

There are a number of financial considerations that coincide with apprenticeships; particularly where costs are incurred ahead of monies received; the collection of employer fees; the impact of non-participation; the impact of out of funded learning and viability of provision.

Providers must ensure there is a balance between profitability, quality of product and engagement. This helps eliminate the risk of low student success rates and poor student experience. Implementing clear metrics with monitoring arrangements in place will help manage risk and ensure compliance with the apprenticeship funding rules.

Wherever you are in your apprenticeship journey it is important that you consider the effectiveness of:

  • business planning processes for all aspects of apprenticeships including the apprenticeship journey, business development, contracting and delivery;
  • resource allocation and deployment;
  • performance management information available and how it’s implemented;
  • approach to the calculation of course costings; 
  • employers’ fees policy and rationale; and
  • financial monitoring framework.