This article is more than 3 years old

How collaboration is the key to apprenticeship quality

Jill Shepherd of QA Apprenticeships says FE:HE collaboration is essential to quality apprenticeships.
This article is more than 3 years old

Jill Shepherd is the Associate Dean of Degree Apprenticeships at QA Apprenticeships.


Trust and innovation are powerful words. They make a partnership between traditional apprenticeship providers and universities work.

Of course, we can debate what work means. Logic states it should mean a degree apprenticeship, not a degree and an apprenticeship, otherwise what is the point? Traditional apprenticeship providers (TAPs) need to know where the pitfalls in such provision are, need to learn from others, and openly share with the university any challenges as they arrive. It’s about trust.

Break that trust and you are messing with the academy. The academy is a proud institution for good reason. It painstakingly creates what makes its way into the textbooks and resources that students use to become professional scholarly practitioners at level 4 and beyond. Mutual respect is needed.


Innovation can create tensions that break down trust. Innovation must be in the design of the programme and in the delivery model. TAPs often know more about changing behaviours in the workplace compared to HE. They can think through what it means to integrate work-based learning into the degree so that apprenticeship occupational standards are met and is fit for working students.

Universities can be the gatekeeper. When does innovation become disruption, such that it is counter-productive to the university rules and regulations? When does innovation offer greater learning gain for the student? How can both work together to research what high-quality vocational education really means?

Before branching into degree apprenticeships, TAPs can deliver higher apprenticeships themselves to gain valuable experience of delivering at level 4 and 5. Care must be taken to still provide a pathway from level 3 all the way through to level 7 as, after all, apprenticeships funded through the levy have an ethical and moral obligation to deliver social mobility that leads to improved national productivity.

The productivity puzzle

My guess is that the post-Brexit future will involve a talent war as trade tariffs are negotiated alongside the ease with which skilled people can move between the countries involved in reaching a trade agreement.

Whatever your opinion on how TAPs can cooperate with higher education, quality matters. Apprentices are in the workforce, they need smooth administration and clear learning effectiveness. Employers need a clear understanding of the commitment involved and the return on investment expected.

Academic freedom needs to be treasured. The whole system needs timely oversight on quality and continual improvement.

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