UK Education Experts Warn On Shift Away from Employer-Sponsored University Apprenticeships

In the United Kingdom, the government has launched an initiative to encourage apprenticeships via taxing businesses payrolls (where no apprenticeships are on the roster). While this might sound like a good way to increase the number of apprenticeships offered for college students/graduates entering the work force, some education experts warn that this move could weigh on employer-sponsored degree programs.

On Thursday, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) published a paper requesting the government make new provisions to ensure that degree sponsorship will not be hindered by the introduction of this levy.  As a point of reference, approximately one in ten students (in a university program) is sponsored by an employer.

UK Education“Ministers must ensure they complement rather than disrupt existing employer-sponsored degrees,” comments London South Bank University vice-chancellor David Phoenix, who authored the report.  This particular university currently enrolls nearly 7,000 sponsored students in conjunction with roughly 1,000 companies.

Indeed, labor officials fear that some companies will restructure their programs, perhaps renaming a basic training program as an apprenticeship.  But Steve Hill, of Open University, is also concerned there will be greater lag between paying the levy and getting vouchers could reflect in a lack of funding for the students who are already in a program and set to graduate.

Open University is the largest provider of these employer-sponsored degrees, and Hill laments, “What I don’t want to see is a situation where finance directors have more of a say in training than learning and development directors.”

To put this in perspective, employers generally contribute £31,412 towards a single sponsored four-year part-time degree; the government chips in about £2,674.  Alternately, HEPI says, an unsponsored three-year degree can cost the government £14,973 and, when factoring in the cost of subsidising loans and other grants the student share is £12,561.

Basically, former government adviser—now with HEPI—Nick Hillman, advises: “They are nearly six times cheaper than regular degrees for taxpayers and students can emerge with no debt. Unless we are careful, this could drive out tried-and-tested forms of higher education that are already backed by employers.”