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How the University of Exeter is embracing Degree Apprenticeships

Pete Vukusic

Professor Pete Vukusic

Associate Dean for Education, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences
University of Exeter
Construction student

The University of Exeter is proud to be a Russell Group university committed to Degree Apprenticeships as an innovative new approach to higher education.

In our regular engagement with government it has been made clear that Degree Apprenticeships are a key part of the Government’s social mobility agenda. The Government is also keen to see higher and vocational education brought together in order to provide new and attractive routes to work, thereby equipping the UK workforce with the high-level technical skills needed to support the prosperity and productivity of the UK economy.

We are committed to this ethos of creating opportunities for students who perhaps would not otherwise study for a degree, given the financial investment this entails and the uncertainties of the graduate employment market. The Digital and Technology Solutions Degree Apprenticeship programme we are developing offers high-calibre students a degree in Business IT founded in the educational excellence of Exeter, alongside invaluable full-time professional experience with an employer which will enhance their career prospects.

The University of Exeter is developing partnerships with a range of employers to offer opportunities to our prospective students. These include national and multinational IT and finance organisations, as well as a number of regional employers in the South West including some small- and medium-sized enterprises. The response we have experienced from local business to this initiative demonstrates its potential for positive impact in our regional community and economy as well as to the national economy. At all levels, the response from business has been impressive; employers view the programme as a way to recruit graduate-level IT talent to meet their business needs, and to actively shape the training of those recruits. Crucially, this programme equips students with the skills to perform in a business environment – project management and business organisation alongside technical skills such as coding and IT security.

The diversity of our prospective partner employers is telling in terms of the experience we are looking to create, offering opportunities for talented students to gain their degree in partnership with a range of businesses while creating a network of employers who are able to share good practice and contribute to the success of the programme. This approach of partnership and co-creation is at the heart of Degree Apprenticeships and is identified by Universities UK’s recent report Future Growth of Degree Apprenticeships as crucial to their success and further take-up by other universities.

The UUK report also sets out the challenges for universities in developing Degree Apprenticeships, in particular co-ordinating across an institution to deliver something which is a significant departure from a traditional higher education offering. However, given the high-level importance being attached to these programmes and the potential benefits outlined above, they will become difficult for universities to ignore. If Universities can adapt, with the support of BIS and the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), Degree Apprenticeships will bring real value in terms of opportunities for students and deeper, wider ties between universities and business. We welcome the recent multi-million pound funding announcement from BIS to support universities in designing more degree apprenticeships.

The University’s commitment to Degree Apprenticeships also reflects the seriousness with which we take our role as an anchor institution, driving knowledge-intensive growth in the local economy. Building on the presence of the Met Office and a new science park that will soon host Europe’s fastest supercomputer, we, with other strategic partners, are working to make Exeter a leading centre for ‘Big Data’ analytics and Environmental Science.

Our Degree Apprenticeship in Digital & Technology solutions is aligned to other investments that we, Exeter College and the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership are making to ensure that local people can move up an ‘escalator’ into well paid jobs and that a growing cluster of innovative companies has access to the skills it needs.

But we recognise there is more that we can do and we are keen to explore other areas in which to develop a portfolio of Degree Apprenticeships in order to bring together world-leading employers with world-leading teaching at a Global Top 100 ranked institution.

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