Later this month, Buckinghamshire New University will welcome about 50 students who have chosen to study for a nursing degree via the apprenticeship route.
Based in High Wycombe, the university is one of a handful offering a degree apprenticeship in registered nursing for NHS trusts that not only have to recruit more nurses, but are keen to spend the money they pay each month through the apprenticeship levy.
Steve Dewhurst, director of apprenticeships at Bucks New, says there is no reason why degree apprenticeships should not be viewed as equal to traditional degrees, given they take a similar amount of time and even have the added asset of work experience.
He says the differences are that apprentices already have a job contract, earn money as they study and avoid a student loan. For Bucks New, which generally specialises in vocational degrees, and also offers degree apprenticeships in management, engineering and digital technology, it’s “evolution not revolution”, says Dewhurst.
Apprenticeships take between one and five years to complete, with at least 20% of training taking place “off the job” – at a university, college or other training provider, or in the workplace, but away from the apprentice’s normal job.
Since last year, new-style apprenticeships designed to better reflect job roles have been available for numerous occupations. Based on revised standards drawn up by the employers themselves, they include a final test or assessment, which has not always been the case.
Standards must be approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships. Sir Gerry Berragan, its chief executive, says the new apprenticeships should give employers greater confidence, given that they are more rigorous than old-style apprenticeships, which are being phased out. They include an assessment plan, which shows that an apprentice can perform identified tasks or functions. “It’s focused on achievement,” he says.
He points out that 216 standards have been approved – ranging from level 2 (equivalent to GCSE) to level 7 (master’s degree). For now, you are more likely to find a level 7 apprenticeship in management than in manufacturing, but, with a further 314 standards in the pipeline, the variety of courses available gets ever greater.
Patrick Bailey, deputy vice-chancellor at London South Bank University, advises against young people taking the apprenticeship route simply to avoid a student loan, but says they are a good option for those “who enjoy being around a job and learning at the same time”.
Further education colleges also offer apprenticeships and, in some cases, collaborate with universities. Teresa Frith, senior skills policy manager at the Association of Colleges, sees one of their main benefits as allowing people to develop new skills, rather than just rubber-stamping what they already do.
“Apprenticeships are absolutely pertinent to work because you are learning in work,” says Frith. “They provide a particular way of getting skills and behaviours you need to progress during your career.”