A consortium led by Middlesex University including Sheffield Hallam and Staffordshire Universities and the University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) has won £99,000 from education charity Edge Foundation’s 2018/9 grant fund for research into degree apprenticeships.
The Edge Foundation makes £1 million in awards each year to applicants that address educational challenges including supporting innovative approaches to HE at Levels 4, 5 and 6, the development of project based learning and associated profound employer engagement, and measuring the performance of technical education.
Middlesex has a strong record of collaborating with UVAC and other universities in the apprenticeships and skills space. In the EDGE funded research, the universities will look at sectors which correspond to their expertise and experience of delivering apprenticeships. Middlesex will focus on public sector nursing, Sheffield Hallam on engineering and Staffordshire on the digital sector. The lessons learned will be applicable across a range of key sectors and valuable to all HE institutions, as almost all are on the register to offer degree apprenticeships.
The MDX research team that was successful in winning the bid is Professor of Education Paul Gibbs, Dr Victoria de Rijke, Associate Professor in the Department of Education, and Dr Darryll Bravenboer, Director of the Centre for Apprenticeships and Skills. The research involves a literature review of the history of apprenticeships in the UK since the 1980s and data collection through interviews with apprentices in the workplace.
The objective is to make structural, procedural and pedagogic recommendations about how higher education institutions can adapt intelligently to providing degree apprenticeships. As part of the process, a network of HE providers to develop and promote best practice for the sector will be established, says Dr Bravenboer.
Dr Bravenboer stresses the importance of collaboration with employers and professional bodies to design high quality integrated degree apprenticeships. He also believes that the complex demands of setting up and administering degree apprenticeships means institutions need to be fully committed to meeting the requirements of this innovative form of HE. “We have to conduct research to see what emerges, but there is significant scope for the work to inform our thinking about what what 4th industrial revolution HE should look like".
MDX B2B Sales and Construction degree apprentices in June 2018
"What I imagine will emerge are troubling realities of the fragmented apprenticeship system, and also important challenges which I think post-1992 universities are well placed to meet," says Dr De Rijke. "We are committed to widening participation, we understand the drivers of social mobility, we already have high quality vocational elements to many of our programmes".
Among a range of new public sector degree apprenticeship programmes, Middlesex is launching police officer apprenticeships with Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire Police forces in collaboration with Cumbria, Canterbury and Portsmouth universities. Middlesex currently trains a large number of nursing apprentices and offers a number of private sector degree apprenticeships in roles such as B2B Sales Professional, and is developing others.
Edge Chief Executive, Alice Barnard, said: “We are delighted to be supporting this important research which is critical to informing and shaping degree apprenticeships in the future, ensuring students are getting the very best education and training that good apprenticeships offer”.
“Edge has always been an advocate of apprenticeships and we know an increasing number of employers value skills and experience as much, if not more, than qualifications. With a degree and work experience combined, degree apprenticeships offer the best of both worlds and are good news for students and for employers.”