Introduced in 2015 as the jewel in the crown of government’s apprenticeship reform programme, degree apprenticeships offer an alternative work-based pathway to achieving what would otherwise be (more often than not) an entirely academic qualification, which at undergraduate level, is nigh on impossible for busy working professionals.

A key theme of degree apprenticeships is widening access and participation in Higher Education for disadvantaged and underrepresented groups which includes mature students*. Upskilling mature students is considered key to closing the skills gap at levels 4, 5 and 6, which is critical to UK Plc driving business productivity, growth and competitiveness, as well as stimulating social mobility.

Focused exclusively on business, management and leadership, and with the median age of our degree apprentices being 39, mature students, business performance and social mobility are at the heart of everything UCQ does.

A significant proportion of UCQ’s degree apprentices didn’t go to college or university after leaving school, they made other life choices, including for many to go straight into the world of work. Fast forward a number of years, “grown up” commitments have racked up, and it’s easy to see why, until fairly recently, it was difficult for them to access the first cycle of Higher Education. Perhaps unsurprisingly, foremost amongst the barriers that had previously prevented them from accessing degree level education included a lack of time and/or convenience, and the cost. The highly flexible and work-based nature of degree apprenticeships saw off the first two barriers and introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in 2017, the third.

As will be the case for others, our degree apprentices come from across a range of industries, both public and private, employed by organisations ranging in size from entrepreneurial small and medium sized enterprises (SME) through to global conglomerates. To be expected, their socio-economic backgrounds differ, some have made it to the boardroom, others aspire to be the managers and leaders of the future. Irrespective of background or position, a common thread running through many of our degree apprentices is that they were subject experts in an area and then “accidently” fell into management; one trait they all share however, is a purposeful drive and commitment to develop their knowledge and skills of professional management, in order to improve their performance, the performance of their teams and their businesses.

A degree apprenticeship is a very different proposition to a conventional degree; in fact, a management degree apprenticeship with UCQ is very different to most other management degree apprenticeships! An example of this can be seen in our Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA), which incorporates a full BA honours degree that continually assesses knowledge, skills and behaviours i.e. there are no exams, or duplication of effort to create an evidence portfolio for end point assessment. Although knowledge is assessed against conventional academic assignments, the assessment of skills and behaviours, which accounts for some two thirds of the degree, is against how well and in what manner that new knowledge is being applied in the workplace, more often than not, when carrying out the day to day job, albeit with a greatly enhanced “toolbox”.

Through self-reflection and ongoing demonstration of skills and behaviours to their staff, peers, line manager and professional development assessor, degree apprentices are continually proving their occupational competency, rather than simply an ability to “remember stuff” in the short-term. Upon successful completion of their programme, degree apprentices can demonstrate to all stakeholders, current and future, that they have the ability to stay the course, and effectively apply their knowledge in order to get the job done in the right way, which reminds me of a tale told by Rolf Dobelli in The Art of Thinking Clearly  …

In 1918, after winning the Nobel Prize for Physics, Professor Max Planck toured Germany delivering lecture after lecture on quantum mechanics. Bored rigid after watching the same lecture so many times, his chauffeur suggested to the Professor that in order to inject some variety into the proceedings, that he delivers the next lecture in Munich. Planck agrees to this, and so, whilst sat in the front row wearing his sidekick’s cap, the chauffeur stands up and impeccably delivers a long lecture on quantum mechanics to an eminent audience. After the lecture concludes, a physics professor stands up and asks the chauffeur a question… to which he replies “Never would I have thought that someone from such an advanced city as Munich would ask such a simple question! My chauffeur will answer it.”

*Mature Students are defined as individuals undertaking a Further or Higher Education course aged 21 or over