Degree Apprenticeships: An Alternative to Higher Education

Image reflecting common and popular words associated with Degree Apprenticeships

Higher education is becoming more expensive and more employers are looking for ability over academic grades for Graduate positions. However, many employers report ongoing challenges with hiring suitably qualified people who can readily apply their skills. In response, the UK introduced Degree Apprenticeships in 2016 as an alternative to traditional higher education that can bridge the skills gap. But what exactly are they?

Degree Apprenticeships allow students to earn a degree and/or professional qualification while also gaining valuable work experience. They build the future workforce and address skills shortages by employing students while they study. UK Degree Apprenticeship programmes enable the learner to gain a full Undergraduate or Masters’ degree, respectively.

NZ Universities published a piece on Degree Apprenticeships in 2019 and whether they would work in New Zealand. On Monday, 15 May, Stuff published an op-ed about the NZ vocational education model. This blog provides more background to this article.

An alternative to university

Employers drive Degree Apprenticeships. They work with higher education institutes to develop the skills that both parties believe graduates need. They jointly create a degree course which provides all the theoretical background behind the job. One of the main success factors is the participation of employers in programme design and delivery.

Whilst largely aimed at 18 to 19-year-old school leavers as an alternative route to university, they also support progression from craft and technical roles into management. They are, therefore, also appropriate for mature students who wish to upskill and advance their career through further study. Learners apply to an employer for a vacancy on their Degree Apprenticeship. If successful, they receive a job offer and the employer enrols them on to the Degree. Once employed, the apprentice splits their time between 70-80% working and 20-30% attending university to study.

Funding for Degree Apprenticeships is provided by employers and the government, through an Apprenticeship Levy. All employers in the UK with a payroll above £3million contribute 0.5% of this cost to spend on Apprenticeships.

If an organisation’s payroll is below £3million, the company pays 5% of the total cost, with the government covering the rest. Employers cover all student tuition fees.

Earn while you Learn: The Unique Benefits of Degree Apprenticeships

Degree Apprenticeships offer students a way to earn a degree without gathering significant debt, they ‘earn while they learn’. Apprentices have an opportunity to directly apply skills from their learning and have an immediate contribution towards the economy. They gain a deep understanding of a subject, as well as the ability to apply it in the workplace.

Degree Apprenticeships have a great advantage of hiring and training new staff into more complex roles that lower Apprenticeships cannot accommodate. Additionally, employers ensure their workforce has the skills to succeed on the job and benefit from the apprentices’ productivity. Employers also have more connections to their local university which leads to more industry collaboration.


Done properly they can address skills gaps, open doors for disadvantaged learners, and ease the passage from school to work. This makes them an attractive option for those looking to enter the workforce. As people become more aware of them, so too will the opportunities for real and lasting impact on people’s lives.

Rich Downey, Consultant, Hague Consulting Ltd. © Hague Consulting Ltd 2023

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