UK’s top 100 universities falling short on many popular apprenticeship sectors, new research finds

Just 21% of universities offer degree apprenticeships in construction, with even lower levels for other industry sectors. 

Recent research by the University Vocation Awards Council (UVAC) found significant gaps in the degree apprenticeships on offer at many of the UK’s top 100 universities.  

The universities, which includes big-hitters like the University of Oxford, LSE, and University of Cambridge, are notably lagging behind in meeting the demand for apprenticeships in key sectors. This is despite the fact that the number of degree apprenticeships on offer increased by 9% compared with last year. 

Construction skills gap not being addressed by degree apprenticeships

One big concern is the lack of apprenticeships in construction. Just 21% of the UK’s top 100 universities offer degree apprenticeships in this sector. This is important because there’s a need for skilled workers, especially for projects related to reducing pollution. Back in November 2023, the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) estimated that 40,000 additional skilled workers are needed to meet the demand for major projects, including those directly related to net zero, over the next four years.  

Construction-based degree apprenticeships are uniquely complicated because they have very sector-specific issues around cost, employer engagement, and regulatory requirements. This makes it difficult for some universities to commit to providing construction degree apprenticeships, which may explain why the percentage is so low. 

Other fields like health, science, and technology are also not getting enough attention. Just slightly less than half of universities offer apprenticeships in these areas, even though there’s a big demand for skilled workers in these fields. Similarly, only 1% of universities offering apprenticeship programmes in law and legal services at the moment. 

Universities have a key role to play in apprenticeships in the future

However, there is cause for optimism as more than half of the Russell Group, which consists of 24 leading research-focused universities in the UK, have begun offering degree apprenticeships. These institutions, in cities such as Leeds, Sheffield, and Exeter, have made a significant impact, benefiting approximately 500 employers and over 2,100 apprentices through their higher and degree apprenticeship programs. 

Mandy Crawford-Lee, CEO for UVAC, said, “Too often universities are only seen as focused on academic programmes for young people, when in reality those delivering apprenticeships play a key role in supporting those new to the workforce, or currently employed, to develop the knowledge and skills needed to excel in any sector.” 

The best- and worst-served industry sectors for degree apprenticeships

What sectors are the UK’s top 100 universities serving with degree apprenticeships? 

  • Business and administration – 48% 
  • Health and Science – 45% 
  • Digital and IT – 36% 
  • Engineering and manufacturing – 33% 
  • Construction, architecture and the build environment – 21% 
  • Care services – 20% 
  • Education, teaching and childcare – 18% 
  • Protective services (e.g. police or fire service) – 9% 
  • Financing and accounting – 7% 
  • Agriculture, environment and animal care – 7% 
  • Creative and design – 6% 
  • Transport and logistics – 5% 
  • Catering and hospitality – 4% 
  • Sales, marketing and procurement – 4% 
  • Law and legal studies – 1% 
  • Hair and beauty – 0% 

“Moving forwards, we view the provision of higher and degree apprenticeships delivered by higher education as essential to levelling up regions and reducing the skills gap,” said Crawford-Lee, “I believe universities provide a cutting-edge and aspirational approach that is continually helping raise the status of all types of apprenticeship across the UK.” 

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