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Emerging HE policies highlight new political landscape

Interventionism is suddenly all the rage with the Westminster Conservative government, and higher education is feeling the impact as new policies and legislation are brought to bear on the sector, writes Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of Push and of the Engineering Professors’ Council.

Rethinking universities from the outside in

Mike Boxall, an independent researcher and consultant on higher education policies and strategies, and a senior adviser to PA Consulting, considers the emerging post-COVID world and its implications for the future of universities. His blog is based on a paper published recently by PA Consulting, and co-authored with its HE lead, Ian Matthias.

Is the government missing the real 'levelling up' value of HE?

The Westminster government should wake up to the full potential of higher education to help it meet its ‘levelling up’ goals, argues Professor Martin Jones, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Staffordshire University.

After a week of 'people power' it is time to listen to students

Jonathan Baldwin, managing director of higher education at Jisc, reflects on a week that’s felt the force of people power – and says it’s time for university leaders to respond to students’ calls for change.

Government rolls out no-fee degree apprenticeships

Young people will be able to study new degree apprenticeships at university for free, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.

Employers and universities will work together to develop the courses, designed to combine academic knowledge and practical experience.

Places on the higher level apprenticeships will be available from September in chartered surveying, electronic systems engineering, aerospace engineering, aerospace software development, defence systems engineering, laboratory science, nuclear power engineering and public relations.

These add to places announced in November for degree apprenticeships in digital, automotive engineering, banking relationship management and construction.

Apprentices themselves do not pay for training costs or student fees. The cost will be shared by the government and employers, with the latter paying a third. The government contribution will be met from the apprenticeships budget.

More than 100 companies have worked with over 20 universities and several colleges across the country to develop the programme so far. Seventy universities have expressed an interest in offering Degree Apprenticeships in the future.

David Cameron said: “Degree Apprenticeships will give people a great head start, combining a full degree with the real practical skills gained in work and the financial security of a regular pay packet. They will bring the world of business and the world of education closer together, and let us build the
high-level technical skills needed for the jobs of the future. I want to see many more businesses and universities begin to offer them.”

In a report published this week, Professor Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield and Sir Nigel Thrift, Vice-Chancellor of Warwick University, said that research intensive universities should take the lead in developing and offering the new qualifications.

They argue that vocational education should not be seen as the “poor relation” of academia and that leading universities would need to rethink their admissions criteria and teaching methods to offer higher level apprenticeships.

Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group said the programmes could help universities attract students from more diverse backgrounds but warned that the initiative had to be properly funded.

“Good teaching needs proper funding to be sustainable and it is important that these new degrees continue to be funded from a separate source rather than the current tight teaching budgets,” she said.

The Government is forming a board of leading business, university, and college groups to oversee the new programme as it rolls out, including representatives from the CBI, FSB, EEF, Universities UK, University Alliance, Russell Group, University Vocational Awards Council and the Association of Colleges.

Maddalaine Ansell, Chief Executive of University Alliance, said its members were committed to playing an active role.

“Alliance universities, which have a particular focus on delivering excellent courses in partnership with industry and the professions, are well placed to help develop and implement Degree Apprenticeships,” she said. “Working effectively with partners is part of our universities’ DNA and we have dynamic and strong relationships with a wide range of education providers and employers. 

Howard Simms, founder of Apadmi, a company taking part in the Degree
Apprenticeship in Digital, said: "Degree Apprenticeships are an excellent initiative. From a small employer's viewpoint they provide access to bright, keen talent at an earlier age. From a student's viewpoint they will gain a degree, learn skills directly relevant to employment, and avoid significant debt, as
they will be earning a wage. It's a win-win scenario."

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills also announced 49 new apprenticeship standards today, developed by over 500 employers, in occupations including healthcare assistant practitioner, rail engineering technician and chef. They are added to the 80 trailblazer standards that have already been defined and are part of the Government’s plan to improve the quality of apprenticeships.

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