UK Increases Funding for Degree Apprenticeships Amid Calls for Higher Wages

Monday, January 22, 2024

In a significant move to boost higher education accessibility, the UK Government, through the Office for Students (OfS), has announced an investment of £12 million to expand the availability of Level 6 degree apprenticeship courses and places in English higher education institutions. This funding is a part of the OfS's broader £40 million degree apprenticeships fund aimed at supporting 205 Level 6 degree apprenticeship programmes across 51 higher education providers.

The National Union of Students (NUS) UK and the National Society of Apprentices (NSoA) have welcomed this initiative, acknowledging its potential to offer alternative university pathways to those who might otherwise be unable to access higher education. These degree apprenticeships combine high-quality education with practical job experience, presenting a viable option for young people to avoid the burden of substantial student debt.

However, amidst this positive development, both organizations have raised concerns regarding the economic feasibility for apprentices, particularly those from less affluent backgrounds. Simon Hawthorn from NSoA emphasized the role of degree apprenticeships in promoting social mobility, highlighting the geographical spread of institutions participating in this program. He stressed the need for these opportunities to be genuinely accessible to all, urging the government to align the apprentice living wage with the Real Living Wage.

Echoing these sentiments, Chloe Field, Vice President of NUS UK, praised the extra funding but pointed out the limitations imposed by the current apprentice minimum wage of £6.40 per hour. She noted that apprentices are a diverse group, including not just school leavers but also individuals living independently, retraining later in life, and those with families to support. Field called on the UK Government to increase the apprentice minimum wage, aligning it with the Real Living Wage, to ensure that the benefits of this funding are felt across all socio-economic backgrounds.

This move by the OfS and the response from NUS UK and NSoA highlights a critical juncture in UK higher education policy. While the increased funding for degree apprenticeships marks a step forward in making higher education more accessible and practical, it also underscores the ongoing challenges in ensuring equitable access for all, regardless of economic background. The call for a wage increase for apprentices forms a crucial part of this debate, focusing on the need for sustainable financial support for those seeking to advance their education and skills through these programs.