In 2021, the UK government tasked Ofsted with the inspection of degree apprenticeships (DAs). These new apprenticeship regulations affect universities, colleges and other providers in the higher education space. This added to the already extensive set of regulatory bodies and standards to which DAs must comply. It has also brought a step change in the culture of universities.
In an independent report commissioned by the OfS, sector stakeholders expressed concerns. It highlighted the ‘bureaucratic burden’ resulting from the oversight of Ofsted. The review also commented on the changes to policy and funding requirements, which was “practically and culturally heavy to carry and manage”.
So, do the multiple chains of accountability enhance quality for learners or inhibit it? Does the well-meaning desire to deliver quality through regulatory oversight disrupt the university sector’s fine-tuned capabilities to provide high-quality degree apprenticeship programmes?
The challenge for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)
Ofsted inspections are merely the latest hurdle affecting DAs, among a range of other challenges, including:
- Policy change exhaustion. UK politics is turbulent, with swift changes of policy and ministers. When announcements are made without the risks and consequences being assessed, or without sufficient time for providers to sufficiently accommodate changes, this can impact HEIs and the quality of provision.
- Lack of shared goals. Aligned with the problem of political instability is the lack of shared goals between regulatory institutions. The DfE, for example, through the Institute, aims to make savings where possible. This can counteract the Institute’s priority to deliver good-quality apprenticeships.
- Ofsted remit. The CEO of UVAC expressed concerns that Ofsted is a body traditionally focused on schools, FE and level 2/3 apprenticeships. It is therefore, not sufficiently contextualised to higher education settings. Questions have also been raised about whether Ofsted’s remit is appropriate and clear. Ofsted insists that it is only concerned with the quality of education. Reports by FE week show that one charity was downgraded from ‘reasonable’ to ‘insignificant’ progress following a ‘tip off’ about apprenticeship pay and unsuitable employment.
- Funding bands and inflation. Despite inflation and rising energy prices increasing the running costs of programmes, there is as yet no corresponding rise in apprenticeship funding. In June 2022, the government pledged to invest £8 million to encourage universities to start or expand degree apprenticeships. However, it has not specified how it will use the money.
- ESFA audits. In 2022, the ESFA began conducting audits of HEI apprenticeships. This focuses on initial needs assessment, price negotiation, off-the-job learning requirements, collection of co-investment and compliance with funding rules, with consequences for non-compliance.
How can HEIs manage apprenticeship regulations?
Apprenticeships are likely to continue to be highly regulated. However, there is substantial demand for degree apprenticeships from employers. The government has not yet announced any lessening of a commitment to encouraging more people to take advantage of level 6 and 7 apprenticeship training. So, how can providers mitigate these risks, particularly when it comes to ensuring they can deliver quality programmes?
In our eBook ‘Are degree apprenticeships over-regulated?’, we bring together best practice advice from experts in the field about managing regulation challenges, considering knowledge, preparation, support, staffing and technology. We examine what higher education providers can do to meet apprenticeship regulations while protecting what it does best – delivering high-quality degree apprenticeships in tandem with traditional degrees.