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In a week when the government reshuffled its cabinet, HE issues that made headlines gave the newly-appointed universities minister a taste of things to come, says Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers .
The past week’s events and news are a sign of turbulent times for UK universities, warns Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University.
Mike Ratcliffe, academic registrar at Nottingham Trent University, reflects on issues emerging from a packed week of higher education news.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for higher education has reported almost a 21 per cent rise in the number of complaints it received from students last year – rising to their highest ever level at 2,371.
Employer-sponsored degrees should be given the same support as higher-level apprenticeships according to a new report.
The Higher Education Policy Institute says this kind of study has great benefits for employers, the country’s economy and for individuals – who “earn as they learn” and gain a degree without getting into debt.
But the report's author, Professor Dave Phoenix, Vice-Chancellor of London South Bank University and Chair of the Million+ group, has also warned that if employer-sponsored degrees are not supported by the new £3 billion-a-year apprenticeship levy, there is a risk employers will switch their support from degrees to apprenticeships.
One in ten students in higher education is currently sponsored by an employer. Typically, someone doing such a degree will study one-day a week and work for the rest of it, while also receiving on-the-job training.
The report argues that degree and higher-level apprenticeships enjoy substantial subsidies from the government, and that the playing field between these and employer-sponsored degrees should be levelled.
It says employer-sponsored degrees are around six times cheaper for taxpayers than a typical three-year undergraduate degree – a figure based on new analysis by London Economics for this report.
Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said more people could benefit from being sponsored to do a degree.
“Employer sponsored degrees are a great way to provide job-ready skills alongside an academic qualification. They deliver higher productivity for employers and higher wages for individuals. They are nearly six times cheaper than regular degrees for taxpayers and the students can emerge with no debt.”
The report calls for parity between the way that apprenticeships and employer sponsored degrees are funded, “allowing the schemes to compete on an equal footing” and for employer sponsored degrees to be promoted in schools and through the media.
It also says the government should look at the impact of policy in this area on social mobility and consider bringing in a “Higher Education Salary Sacrifice Scheme”. This would involve an employer paying universities upfront and the student paying the employer back through their before-tax salary.
Professor Phoenix (whose own university, London South Bank, has nearly 7,000 sponsored students), said he supported the government’s new degree apprenticeships, as a “welcome addition to professional and technical education”.
But he added: “Ministers must ensure they complement rather than disrupt existing employer sponsored degrees. This report shines a light on the huge value of employer-sponsored degrees and shows how a good policy could become a great one.”
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