Degree apprenticeships dominated by white students and those from more affluent areas, report finds

Eleanor Busby
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Degree apprenticeships dominated by white students and those from more affluent areas, report finds

White students from more affluent areas are more likely to do degree apprenticeships, report finds.

More needs to be done to ensure disadvantaged and underrepresented young people have access to degree apprenticeships, which combine paid work with study, the Office for Students (OfS) has said.

Only 13 per cent of young people who took up degree-level apprenticeships, which were launched to help widen access to higher education and fill skill gaps, were the most disadvantaged students.

Meanwhile in the same year (2016-17), 28 per cent of young people from the most advantaged areas undertook these qualifications - which are paid for by the employer and government.

The research from OfS, the higher education regulator, also found that 87 per cent of apprentices in programmes supported by the Degree Apprenticeship Development Fund (DADF) were white.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS, said: “It is vital to widen opportunities for disadvantaged learners to access and succeed in degree apprenticeships, and there is further to go to encourage minority ethnic and disabled learners to follow this route.”

She added that the profile of degree apprenticeships needs to be raised and prospective apprentices need to be given high quality information, advice and guidance about their options.

There were only 11,000 degree-level apprenticeships in 2017-18, government statistics show.

Rachel Hewitt, director of policy and advocacy at think tank Higher Education Policy Institute, said: “Degree apprenticeships still aren’t well known about by students and so these kind of opportunities are being picked up by students from affluent areas first.”

She added that pupils in some areas of the country have to travel 12 times further for degree apprenticeship opportunities than those in London as employers are often based in more affluent areas.

Ms Hewitt said: “While degree apprentices are paid a salary, they aren’t given funding for moving away from home or given the same level of support as a student going away to university.

“If degree apprenticeships are going to meet their aims, the number of them will need to increase and students from poorer backgrounds need more support and to be made more aware of them.”

Separate research from social mobility charity the Sutton Trust found that degree-level apprentices can earn £50,000 more over a lifetime than a non-Russell Group graduate.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “It is worrying to see that those from advantaged backgrounds are more likely to access higher level apprenticeships than disadvantaged young people.

He added: “Two-thirds of teachers advise their students not to opt for higher level apprenticeships. We need to do much more to turn this around.

“We need to increase the prestige of apprenticeships as is the case in Switzerland and Germany. This includes promoting the fact that with a degree-level apprenticeship you earn while you learn, come out with little or no debt and with skills that the marketplace wants.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the figures show the need for the provision of high-quality careers advice for all young people.

He said: “Unfortunately, our schools and colleges are so chronically underfunded that they cannot afford to hire specialist advisers and have to manage as best they can to provide guidance about an increasingly complex post-18 landscape.

“It is to their credit that they do such a good job under such difficult circumstances but we need a better national strategy on careers advice.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are seeing more and more businesses and universities successfully working together to design degree apprenticeship programmes that give people the higher level skills employers say they want.

“Widening participation remains a priority for this Government and we want our reforms to mean more apprentices from disadvantaged areas are undertaking apprenticeships at a higher level, or in sectors that offer increasing value to the learner.

“To ensure disadvantaged and under-represented groups can benefit from these fantastic opportunities we set up a £10m fund in 2015 to boost access and provision.”