This article is more than 1 year old

The multiverse of degree apprenticeships

The interest in Multiverse getting degree awarding powers ignores the popularity of degree apprenticeships provision across the sector. It has registered with Mike Ratcliffe
This article is more than 1 year old

Mike Ratcliffe is a higher education historian and career academic administrator

It’s good news that Multiverse Group has both become registered as an OfS provider and gained new taught degree awarding powers.

There’s been much interest in this apprenticeship provider, especially among investors who have put a lot of money into it.

So while its website continues to say that it’s building an alternative to university, it has quietly been following the route to have students pay fees (although they don’t need to under the degree apprenticeship model) or get degrees (which Multiverse had arranged with Northeastern University, London).

Multiverse says “we explicitly chose not to pursue access to the student loan book or to be able to charge fees, and have made a firm commitment that we never will charge students themselves fees.” But how long will that commitment last?

Wider and higher

One of the key planks of the 2017 reforms of the English sector was to create a regulator in the OfS that covered all of higher education. HEFCE only regulated the parts that it funded, OfS has wider powers. As an apprenticeship provider Multiverse has been subject to Ofsted inspection (which gave it an outstanding rating) but not subject to the wider regulation that OfS offers.

It’s good news for the sector that a new provider wants to come into the regulatory envelope – even if at “Approved” and not the “Approved (fee cap)” which would have provided access to OfS funding.

Clearly the last two years have been difficult for new providers. OfS stopped accepting new applications for registration and as a consequence few have joined the register. Bloomsbury Institute (who had some issues in getting registered) became the 412th provider in October 2020 and with mergers and de-registrations the number of providers now still the same in September 2022.

Completely new providers to the register since then include: Applied Business Academy, City College, College of Legal Practice, Churchill College, Inchbald School of Design, MLA College, McTimoney College of Chiropractic, OnCampus, Tavistock & Portman Trust, TEDI-London, ThinkSpace Education, UA92, and Waltham International College.

Another alternative?

Of course, some commentators have picked up on this “alternative to university” badging and run with it. It helps, of course, that one of the chief evils of the twenty first century is, to some people’s mind, the 50 per cent participation target and the assumption that means everyone has to go to university. In this version, old Mr Blair was wrong and young Mr Blair is proving that.

The main point of new providers is that they bring innovation to the sector. Multiverse has a number of opportunities for people, but it joined the OfS in respect of its degree apprenticeships. It’s possible that some commentators, for example Oliver Williams-Grut, may have missed that universities are offering these already. Indeed, the new degree awarding powers award limits Multiverse to three role pathways in Digital and Technology Solutions.

The commentators might also have not noticed that degree apprenticeships are one of the areas with quite a lot of existing regulation and this is subject to an apprenticeship standard. This sets out the skills and technical knowledge for a range of roles in this area with an assessment plan. As this is an established standard, Multiverse is joining a wide range of universities offering the same degree apprenticeship. No doubt Multiverse brings a lot to the delivery of this, alongside the employers they work with, but this is an award you can get from Anglia, Exeter, Greenwich, University Centre Grimsby, Warwick and so on.

One of many

Of course, getting degree awarding powers on a probationary basis is a good step, but the commentators should be aware that Multiverse is offering the same level provision as Blackpool and Grimsby.

As Multiverse adapts to regulation by the OfS there will be some other milestones. Financial statements will need to move to the OfS approved standard – allowing more unpacking of issues from the 2021 accounts, say around its £11 million operating loss (it had assets of £25 million and a subsequent fundraising to bolster that further, so no immediate concerns).

And as the chief executive is the founder, then untangling remuneration may be interesting. If the articles about young Mr Blair’s wealth arising from this company are correct, then it will shift the average of institutional leader pay in the sector.

And then, as a regulated HE provider committed to “remote-first” as its mode of delivery, it may even be that Blair junior gets phoned up by a minister saying that face-to-face education is best.

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