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HEi-think: Staffordshire's new £17m hub is a vote of confidence in apprenticeships

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Staffordshire University is aiming for significant growth in apprenticeships with the launch of £17m digital apprenticeships and skills hub that offers a model for the rest of the sector, says its Pro Vice Chancellor ( Partnerships and Region), Professor Ieuan Ellis.

 

“I never wanted to do a degree. That was the whole thing when I was at school, I thought I don’t want to do a degree because I don’t want to be in debt." This is the view of a young person who is now employed as an apprentice at Siemens and who will be graduating with a BSc (Hons) Digital and Technology Solutions degree from Staffordshire University.

Higher and Degree apprenticeships have been high on Staffordshire University’s agenda for several years now. We’ve played a leading role working in partnership with regional employers to design and co-deliver these new ‘earn and learn’ awards. Apprenticeships form a key part of our Connected University strategy to widen access to studying in higher education and to gaining higher level qualifications and skills that promote graduate employability. We were the first University represented on the board of the government’s Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network which is working to increase the number of apprenticeship starts by people from BAME backgrounds.

With Stoke-on-Trent recently announced by the Education Secretary as one of the six new opportunity areas to target ‘social mobility cold spots’, Staffordshire University’s commitment to apprenticeships forms an important flexible study route, sitting alongside our 2-year accelerated degrees. These provide key opportunities for young people in our area where progression to Higher Education and social mobility is low.

Today we’ve announced a new £17m Digital Apprenticeships and Skills hub which will establish a national model for how Higher Education can work in partnership with employers and other key stakeholders, to scale-up the development, brokerage and delivery of high quality degree apprenticeships. HEFCE’s £8m funding support for our project confirms our established reputation as a national leader in new flexible higher education courses to provide the skills needed for the future.

This, just a day after The Times reported on the scandal of ‘inadequate’ registered apprenticeships and Ofsted’s concerns over the numbers of companies setting up as training institutions. For employers, it’s a minefield and one which has undoubtedly contributed to a slow uptake in the numbers of apprenticeships nationally since the Apprenticeship Levy was launched in April 2017. In contrast, at Staffordshire University, we have seen 280% growth in our apprenticeships and employers we work with, benefit from knowing we are quality assured using the high standards consistent with degree level qualifications. We are confident our new Digital Apprenticeships and Skills hub will enable us to scale up to achieve 6,500 new apprenticeships by 2030.

Essentially the new Hub will provide employers with a front-door to our University, a one-stop-shop to access the best help and advice on apprenticeships. The Hub will enable close working to design and develop apprenticeships to meet the workforce higher skills gaps across employment sectors, embedding digital skills.

The Hub facilities will allow for co-delivery of digitally-enabled learning to enhance and maintain quality. It will also act as a brokerage centre to ensure that employers and apprentices in our region only work with recognised high quality training providers in both the education and private sector.

We are committed to raising higher level skills which will ultimately impact on our region’s digital capabilities. By partnering with world technology leaders Microsoft, we aim to ensure all apprentices achieve a high level of digital literacy to increase their own employability and deliver benefits for their employers.

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