5 October 2021

QAA report on the quality of degree apprenticeships in Wales

Working with employers on the design, operation and flexibility of work-based learning opportunities is just one of the positive features identified by providers of degree apprenticeships in Wales according to a new report by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA).

Degree apprenticeships integrate higher-level skills and vocationally focused academic study that can lead to recognition by professional bodies.

Review of Degree Apprenticeships in Wales is the first comprehensive review of their quality since the launch of degree apprenticeships in Wales in 2018, and identifies both good practice and areas for further development.

The review is separate to the Welsh Government-commissioned independent evaluation, which will assess the effectiveness and impact of the pilot for the programme, and collect the views of employers, apprentices and providers to inform future developments.

The report looked at the quality of the pilot provision provided in the two sector priority areas of digital, and engineering and advanced manufacturing, along with how the eight providers, and their delivery partners, delivered the distinctive characteristics of degree apprenticeships.

The review focused on the key areas in the design, structure and delivery of degree apprenticeships set out in QAA’s Characteristics Statement for Higher Education in Apprenticeships.

The review also considered the experience of degree apprentices as students and the support available for learners.

The review found that both employers and apprentices were positive about the flexibility of providers in ensuring that degree apprenticeship programmes adapted to the challenges of teaching and learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The review highlighted that providers are actively working with employers to attract a more diverse intake onto degree apprenticeships programmes.

The report encouraged the development of more regular formal communications on apprentices’ progress and sharing the outcomes of external examiner reports. Universities would also need to ensure that the apprentice voice at partner colleges became more effectively heard through formal feedback processes.

Dr David Blaney, Chief Executive of HEFCW said: “Degree apprentices work alongside experienced employees to gain practical skills and experience while applying work-related academic study in the workplace.

“As we, the higher education regulator, administer degree apprenticeship grant funding, employers can be confident that the unique characteristics of degree apprenticeships will be subject to the same rigorous quality assurance processes for all higher education provision in Wales. This is why we commissioned the report.

“We can be heartened by the findings of the review that, in the main, providers and partners really understand how to deliver a degree apprenticeship. As relatively recent additions to the Welsh higher education portfolio, the report provides constructive feedback for providers to improve the experience of degree apprentices more generally.

“Institutions will be working to improve any issues around the design, structure and delivery of their provision to ensure that their degree apprentices get the experience and qualification so distinctive to these programmes. We are also confident that the structures in place will make sure that apprentices continue to add value to their employers through delivering work-based projects and new innovations.

“Degree apprenticeships encourage and grow talent, are suitable for any size of business and are extremely flexible around the needs of the employer, which has been particularly significant during the current pandemic. This report shows that employers should continue to have confidence in building their partnerships with universities and other providers in Wales to support the number of degree apprentices progressing through the system.”

Notes:

The full report and an accompanying news item are on the QAA website.

HEFCW commissioned QAA to undertake this review.

The review focused on the key areas in the design, structure and delivery of degree apprenticeships set out in the Characteristics Statement for Higher Education in Apprenticeships.

The review was a developmental process designed to help stakeholders in developing degree apprenticeships in Wales.

In particular, the review aimed to:

  • inform the development of degree apprenticeship provision through a review report of the provider’s provision
  • share practice with partners and employers, and inform future apprenticeship provision
  • promote sharing of sector good practice, learning and areas for development through an overview report
  • enhance the value of the apprentice learning experience and the value of apprenticeships for employers
  • inform the future development of degree apprenticeship provision in Wales.