Fee-free apprenticeship degrees on the up

Degrees by design: BAE's Matthew Tetlow is an engineering degree apprentice at Warton. ‎Credit: MAI, BAE Systems

The number of degree apprenticeships is on the rise as business and students take advantage of a growing list of subjects on offer and the absence of hefty tuition fees.

Degree apprenticeships (DAs) – introduced in the 2014-15 academic year – have risen from 100 to 770 and are now available in areas as diverse as policing, cybersecurity, engineering, logistics and biomedical science.

At the same time there has been a significant rise in the number of older students taking up apprenticeships, with people aged 25 and over making up 44 per cent (224,100) of all new apprenticeships (509,400), according to government figures.

A House of Commons library briefing paper Apprenticeship Statistics: England shows:

  • 509,400 new apprenticeships in 2015-16, 9,500 more than the previous year
  • 53 per cent of new apprentices were women (268,730) and 47 per cent men (240,630)
  • Higher apprenticeships represented 5 per cent of all starts, up from 4 per cent the year before
  • 770 degree apprentices (level six and above), up from 100 the previous year
  • 25-year-olds and above made up 44 per cent (224,100) of all new apprenticeships
  • The highest number of new apprenticeships was for intermediate (Level 2), with 291,330 starts, followed by 190,870 advanced apprenticeships (level three) and 27,160 higher apprenticeships (level four and above)


A degree apprentice is a full-time employee working a minimum of 30 hours a week. The apprentice is paid a wage and earns a degree without having to pay tuition fees. The tuition fee for 2017 would otherwise be £9,250.

Apprenticeship degree fees are currently paid by the government (two-thirds) and employers (one third), but when the Apprenticeship Levy comes into effect in April 2017, the full cost of fees will be covered by employers if they are levy payers (those with a minimum wage bill of £3 million).

Non-levy payers will then pay 10 per cent and the government will pay 90 per cent towards the cost of the apprenticeship training.

Non-levy payers will [in 2017] pay 10 per cent and the government will pay 90 per cent towards the cost of the apprenticeship training.

Nicola Turner, head of skills at the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) told Chief-Exec.com yesterday that a £4.5 million development fund established by the government was expected to provide up to 5,200 DAs by September 2017.

There was no minimum entry requirement for a DA, but HEFCE expected employers to work with universities and other institutions to ensure that acceptable academic levels were met.

“We expect many employers will offer degree apprenticeships to existing staff as development opportunities as well as to recruit new employees,” Ms Turner said.

Eighteen projects (see table below) were awarded funding by HEFCE in the first round of a two-year programme.

Andrew Harden, the University and College Union’s head of further education, said UCU supported apprenticeships that offer high quality education and have a good chance of leading to successful progression in employment afterwards.

“But it has to be recognised that forming partnerships between college staff and employers to carry out this complex work will require time and there will be a significant financial implication for colleges,” he said.

“There are now 15,000 fewer teachers working in further education colleges than there were in 2009. Significant investment will be required if this capacity is to be restored.”

There are now 15,000 fewer teachers working in further education colleges than there were in 2009. Significant investment will be required if this capacity is to be restored.

Mark Donnelly, ‎apprentice and skills manager at BAE Systems, the British multinational defence, security and aerospace company – and National Apprenticeship Macro Employer of the Year – said it had 62 degree apprentices studying for honours degrees in engineering and project management.

The apprenticeship is a five-year scheme with the first six months spent at college studying full-time. Apprentices then work four days a week at BAE, with a day’s release at college or iniversity. They are paid a competitive starting salary, with salary increases throughout the scheme.

“Degree apprenticeships provide the perfect combination of high-level technical knowledge with real practical experience, it is an ideal way to start your career,” Mr Donnelly said.

Jenny Taylor, IBM’s Foundation Manager in the UK, said the consulting and technology group had 12 degree apprentices studying at four different universities – Queen Mary College at the University of London, the University of Exeter, Glasgow Caledonian and Pearson College. It hoped to have closer to 50 next year.

Most were studying for a Digital & Technology Solutions BSc (Hons) degree, but two were studying for a Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA).

IBM degree apprentices were paid a starting salary of £18,000 a year, with increments as they progressed through the programme.

Degree apprenticeships gave IBM another channel through which to recruit talented young people, Ms Taylor said.

“Our students do work-based assignments in addition to their academic curriculum, so they have the opportunity to include leading-edge technology in their university degree.

“The business case for degree apprenticeships is really strong and enables us to develop really high-quality technical professionals.”

The government has pledged to create three million apprenticeships across all levels by 2020. In comparison, 500,000 new students start undergraduate study in the UK each year.


By Aban Contractor


Learning by degrees



Institution or Consortium
Disciplines include
Number of degree apprenticeships planned for Sept 2017
Birmingham City University Surveying and construction, engineering, chartered management, digital and technology, accounting and business, insurance and risk, financial fraud investigation, radiography/ radiotherapy, marketing, and human resource management 280
Buckinghamshire New University, with Aylesbury College Early years, learning and teaching, digital and technology, business, legal, accountancy and finance, banking and financial services, project management, and product design and development. 370
University of Cumbria, with University of Chester, Liverpool John Moores University, University of Wolverhampton, Buckinghamshire New University, University of Central Lancashire, Open University, Staffordshire University, Plymouth University, and London Metropolitan University Police constables 2000
University of Derby Site management, digital and technology, cybersecurity, aerospace engineering, chartered management, and nursing 110
University of Gloucestershire Cybersecurity, product design and development, internet of things and cyber engineering, and nursing 135
University of Greenwich, with Mid Kent College Construction, engineering, digital and technology, biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences, nursing, paramedic science, community sport, logistics, and chartered surveying 500
Leeds Trinity University, with University of Leeds Supply chain management, and chartered management with specialisms in healthcare, education, and SMEs 50
University of Lincoln, with Sheffield Hallam University A range of degree apprenticeships in food manufacturing, including technical professional, operations management, and food engineering 65
Liverpool John Moores University Building services engineering, construction management, building surveying, real estate management, quantity surveying, engineering, automation and control, engineering, policing, digital and technology, and outside broadcasting 200
London South Bank University, with College of North East London, Lambeth College, Lewisham and Southwark Colleges, Barnet and Southgate College, and Barking and Dagenham College Engineering, building services, site management, and chartered management 300
Northumbria University Site management, construction quantity surveyor, building services, and chartered management. A range of digital and technology degree apprenticeships including: business analyst, data analyst, software engineering, and cybersecurity 130
Nottingham Trent University Chartered management, and electronic systems design and development 120
University of Salford Construction, leadership and management, and control/technical support engineering 50
University of Sheffield, with Sheffield Hallam University Maintenance engineering and construction manufacturing 80
Sheffield Hallam University, with Barnsley College, Sheffield College, Chesterfield College, Rotherham and North Notts Colleges, Dearne Valley College, Doncaster College, and Northern College Chartered management, digital and technology, construction, quantity surveying, health science practitioner, facilities management, cybersecurity, software engineering, railway engineering, advanced manufacturing, ultrasound, paramedic practice, occupational therapy, and physiotherapy 380
University of Sunderland Health care science, nursing, paramedic, cybersecurity, computing, and chartered management 145
University of the West of England, with Weston College, City of Bristol College, Gloucestershire College, and Bridgwater College Embedded and wireless systems, quantity surveying, construction, building services engineering, real estate, leadership and management, digital and technology, aerospace, and aerospace and computer engineering 85
University of Wolverhampton, with Walsall College, City of Wolverhampton College, and Birmingham Metropolitan College Solicitor, legal executive, aerospace, automotive design, development and manufacturing, digital and technology, chartered management, broadcast production, and nursing associate 200
Source: UK government and HEFCE