ColegauCymru is pleased to see many of our concerns about the current operation of degree apprenticeships addressed in today’s Welsh Parliament Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee Report on Degree Apprenticeships.
The report looks at the progress of Welsh Government’s degree apprenticeships pilot, exploring its future potential and we strongly agree with a number of the points and recommendations made by the Committee.
Lack of level playing field for provider contract awards
Our primary concern relates to Welsh Government’s varying approaches to competition. The overlap between Higher and Degree-level Apprenticeships and potential for competition was highlighted with ColegauCymru citing that “some Further Education institutions report already seeing arbitrary competition between the network of Degree apprenticeship providers (HEIs) and the WBL network where the emergence of Degree apprenticeships risk duplicating and competing with existing Higher apprenticeship programmes.”
ColegauCymru’s evidence to the inquiry noted the lack of level playing field for apprenticeship providers, notably the difference between the use of funding models for degree apprenticeships, HEFCW’s use of its own approval process for providers and the competitive procurement process used to award contracts to providers of non-degree apprenticeships.
We maintain that there is “no satisfactory explanation” for the difference. ColegauCymru is pleased that Recommendation 6 of the EIS Committee report states that “Welsh Government should justify retaining two different funding models, including a rationale for continuing with the procurement model for awarding contracts to apprenticeship providers; set out how this is compatible with having coherent learning pathways from Level 2 to Level 6 and how the procurement of the new apprenticeship provision will address this”.
We look forward to Welsh Government’s response to this as we seek to encourage more learners to see apprenticeships as a route into a wide range of rewarding careers.
Lack of diversity
Recommendation 9 argues that “Welsh Government must develop or commission a strategy for widening access to degree apprenticeships for under-represented groups”. ColegauCymru’s evidence highlighted the lack of attention paid to diversity within the pilots, and the Committee report notes that one of the consistent criticisms of degree apprenticeships as they currently stand is that they are “structurally biased towards creating a gender imbalance”. ColegauCymru evidence pointed out that it was not clear what, if any, specific initiatives were undertaken to try to achieve any element of gender balance, and “if any such initiatives were undertaken, they have not worked well.”
We are also concerned about under-representation of disabled and BAME degree apprentices, as well as the need to improve Welsh medium and bilingual opportunities as addressed in Recommendation 10.
ColegauCymru Strategic WBL Group Lead and Pembrokeshire College Principal Barry Walters said,
“Apprenticeship programmes provide a broad range of benefits for learners, communities and the wider economy. Whilst we welcome a number of the recommendations made in the report, we must now ensure greater flexibility in the breadth of programmes available so that learners can see that apprenticeships can not only be a route into a rewarding career but also a path to make a valuable contribution to society.”
Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee