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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

DADF phase 1: Invitation to submit proposals for funding to stimulate development of degree apprenticeships

1. This letter invites proposals for the first phase of an £8 million Degree Apprenticeships Development Fund (DADF). This funding will support the development of new degree apprenticeships in response to the Government’s ambitions to improve vocational opportunities for students and to address skills gaps, thereby increasing productivity and improving economic performance.

2. Degree apprenticeships are programmes of study in which an apprentice is employed for a minimum of 30 hours a week while earning a Level 6 (degree equivalent) or Level 7 (masters degree equivalent) qualification.

3. In the first phase, development funding is available for HEFCE-funded institutions already active in degree apprenticeships to develop new degree apprenticeships to be ready for delivery from academic year 2017-18.

4. This funding is available for the development of degree apprenticeships only. Degree apprenticeships developed in response to this call must comply with the requirements set out in the relevant standard and its accompanying assessment plan. Once approved, organisations wishing to deliver a degree apprenticeship must hold a current funding agreement for delivery with the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) before any delivery commences. Further detail of this is set out in paragraphs 18-21.

5. A total of £8 million will be made available to institutions across the programme as a whole. The majority of this funding will be allocated across two separate competitive calls in order to include as many institutions as possible. We have established an indicative distribution of £3 million for Phase 1 and £5 million for Phase 2.  We will, however, decide on the strength of the responses received to Phase 1 how to divide the funding between the two calls and whether there is a case for directing an element of funding for facilitating and co-ordinating the sector to improve its readiness for delivery. The current call (Phase 1) is for funding to commence no later than September 2016 in order to support development of degree apprenticeships for delivery starting in September 2017. This call will allocate funding to those institutions already active in degree apprenticeships and prepared to move quickly. The second call (Phase 2, to be launched by the end of 2016) will allocate funding in spring 2017 to support development of degree apprenticeships for delivery from September 2018. It is anticipated that this funding will be allocated to those institutions requiring more time to secure partnerships and develop bids.

6. Participants will be expected to share and discuss learning with other institutions, a HEFCE-appointed evaluator and a HEFCE project manager during the scheme.

7. Proposals for this first-phase call should be submitted to by noon on Monday 20 June 2016. We recognise that this is a challenging timescale, but this phase will be focused on institutions already active in degree apprenticeships and it will allow development activities to begin no later than September 2016. This being the case, we encourage institutions to contact their HEFCE institutional teams to discuss ideas ahead of submission. Responses to this call must be submitted using the template at Annex A.

8. We anticipate the approach to the second call for proposals will be broadly consistent with the one described here, but we may amend our approach in light of this first call to support the best possible range of activities for the development of degree apprenticeships.

Purpose of this funding

9. Degree apprenticeships are a key element for higher education (HE), within the broader apprenticeship agenda arising from the Chancellor’s Productivity Plan, ‘Fixing the Foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation’. Skills shortages are said to be responsible for 20 per cent of the lag in productivity between the UK and countries such as the USA, Germany and France (‘Relationship between graduates and economic growth across countries’, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills 2013). With 25 per cent of job openings in the UK classed as skills shortage vacancies, and employer investment in training at historical lows, government policy aims to produce the skilled workforce that employers need by ramping up and reforming apprenticeships to achieve 3 million by 2020.

10. Three aspects of the apprenticeships reforms directly affect the HE sector. Firstly, the policy establishes a more equal footing between apprenticeships and academic degrees by creating new ‘degree apprenticeships’ at Levels 6 and 7. Secondly, employers are encouraged and supported to design their own training provision through Trailblazer groups, which define training contents and learning outcomes for apprenticeships. Thirdly, the introduction of an apprenticeship levy in April 2017 will require large employers to pay for apprenticeship training, generating a fund of £3 billion a year by 2019-20.

11. Trailblazers are employer-led groups that are developing new apprenticeship standards. The standards show what an apprentice will be doing and the skills required of them by job role. Each apprenticeship standard has an assessment plan produced by ‘trailblazers’ which has been approved and is ready for employers and training organisations to use. A list of new apprenticeship standards developed by trailblazers is available.

12. The degree apprenticeships development funding has been established by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to: pump-prime a new HE market for degree apprenticeships; achieve more high-quality new degree apprenticeships; establish capacity and expertise to deliver degree apprenticeships; and secure the cultural and behavioural changes among universities and colleges needed to embed degree apprenticeships in the universal apprenticeship offer and make broader educational opportunities available to learners. For further details, see the letter from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills reproduced at Annex B.

13. A key focus of this first call for funding is to boost the number of degree apprenticeships being started from September 2017. We envisage that the majority of investment supported by this fund will be to enable staff time to be devoted to development in order to advance timescales for delivery.

14. To receive this funding, proposals should meet one or more of the following priorities:

  • converting existing and successful closed or sponsored degrees to degree apprenticeships
  • bringing together employers, professional bodies and providers of higher and further education to design (on- and off-the-job) learning for degree apprenticeships in specific occupational areas
  • building provider capacity for quality curriculum and assessment design and delivery to meet the needs of employers (for instance designing materials, online delivery mechanisms and staff preparedness)
  • activities that better match the supply of provision to employer needs by establishing future skills needs of employers (this does not require the predicted volumes to be stated in the bid).

15. Proposals should include evidence of demand from employers or employer groups for proposed degree apprenticeships, and letters of support from all parties involved in proposed partnerships (including employers, professional bodies, local enterprise partnerships, higher education institutions and the like).

Funding and eligibility

16. We will provide funding for this first-phase call on the following basis:

  1. We have established an indicative budget of £3 million. A maximum level of £250,000 and a minimum level of £50,000 per proposal will be considered. Collaborative bids that include a substantial contribution from more than one higher education institution may exceed the £250,000 maximum funding if there is a particularly strong case. The upper funding limit for collaborative bids is £500,000.
  2. The funding is not intended to be used for capital expenditure, but we will consider this possibility if a proposal gives a particularly strong reason to do so.
  3. We will accept no more than one individual bid per institution. Through collaboration, institutions may be involved in additional bids, with each collaborative bid requiring a lead institution. Institutions may not act as lead institution on more than one bid.
  4. This funding is intended to support new activity only. We do not expect to fund activities already under way, or those which would take place irrespective of this call for proposals. If proposals build on already planned activities in this area, they should make clear how the requested funding will provide genuine additionality to planned activities.
  5. Any degree apprenticeship standard developed with this first-phase funding must be subject to the process already in place to approve other apprenticeship standards and approved as ‘ready to deliver’ by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills before it is used.

17. We anticipate supporting a wide range of projects, in terms for example of types of institutions, industry sectors, modes of delivery and locations. We expect to maintain contact with all projects to maximise the feedback to policy development and practice, and to increase the evidence base to inform the development of degree apprenticeships in future.

Preparing for delivery of a new degree apprenticeship developed with this funding

18. Bidding institutions should be aware that all organisations wishing to deliver an approved degree apprenticeship must hold a funding agreement with the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) before delivery of the apprenticeship can commence. The SFA funds all apprenticeship delivery, supported by access to HEFCE funding (for instance, for high-cost subjects) where applicable.

19. To hold a funding agreement with the SFA, all organisations must successfully apply to the agency’s Register of Training Organisations (ROTO) and separately apply for funding through one of its competitive procurement rounds. Organisations must be registered on ROTO and hold an SFA funding agreement before delivery of degree apprenticeships can commence.

20. The SFA has not yet confirmed the process for delivery from April 2017, but to be notified of opportunities for applying to ROTO and of competitive procurement rounds, please register with BRAVO, the Skills Funding Agency’s e-tendering portal. The support guide for the e-tendering portal provides further details.

21. Any new provision developed must comply with the requirements set out in an existing published and approved standard and its accompanying assessment plan (see paragraph 11).

Assessment criteria

22. Applications for this first call will be assessed through judgement against the following criteria:

  1. The extent to which new degree apprenticeship starts will be achieved from September 2017.
  2. The extent to which the requested funding will address barriers and operational challenges associated with developing or delivering degree apprenticeships, to increase delivery capacity.
  3. The extent to which proposed activities identify or respond to evidenced employer demand.
  4. The extent to which proposed activities support the specific learning needs of the apprentices.
  5. The extent to which proposals demonstrate consideration of steps to market, including: meeting SFA process requirements; joining existing Trailblazer groups or bringing forward new Trailblazer standards; satisfying internal institutional requirements; meeting evidenced employer needs; and recruiting learners.
  6. The extent to which the proposed activity is genuinely additional to that already planned. We expect that bids may include activities that are a normal part of developing provision, but do not expect development funding simply to displace other income streams. A clear statement of additionality will be necessary to secure funding.
  7. The extent to which value for public money can be derived from the proposed project. We will assess this on the basis of a project’s potential to influence and benefit other institutions across the sector, including by providing evidence of good practice to inform government policy. We will also consider the level of investment relative to the number of degree apprenticeship starts projected.
  8. The extent to which the proposal will form part of a balanced portfolio of activities and institutions, and can thereby help to inform policy and practice.

23. Some criteria will be given higher weighting to prioritise proposals which meet the interests set out in paragraphs 12 to 14, in particular the number of degree apprenticeship starts (criterion a in paragraph 22), whether barriers or challenges are being addressed (criterion b), and the value for money derived from the proposed activities (criterion g).

Application process, selection and timescale

24. Institutions are invited to submit proposals for funding, and encouraged to speak to HEFCE institutional team contacts to discuss potential ideas before submission. Institutions wishing to apply for funding should complete the template at Annex A, and email it to by noon on Monday 20 June 2016. Late submissions will not be accepted unless a revised deadline is agreed in advance. Agreement to a change in the deadline is at HEFCE’s sole discretion. Late submissions or submissions not using the template as described will be treated as invalid and will not be assessed.

25. Proposals should not exceed the maximum lengths specified in the template. There should be no annexes except for the purpose of Freedom of Information requests (see paragraphs 34 to 36 below).

26. Proposals should include letters of support from all partner organisations, signed by the respective accountable officers. These should be submitted as separate files, labelled with the lead institution’s name, the partner’s name and ‘Letter of Support’ in the title.

27. Proposals submitted by the deadline above should only be from those requesting funding to support activities beginning no later than September 2016, and with the intention to develop degree apprenticeships that can be delivered from September 2017. Phase 2 will release the second part of the £8 million funding in spring 2017 to support development of degree apprenticeships for delivery from September 2018; a call for Phase 2 funding will be published by the end of 2016 through another circular letter.

28. There will be a single assessment process for each call. Following submission, bids will be assessed internally by HEFCE staff and then validated by an external panel, comprising a range of relevant stakeholders including representatives from industry, professional bodies, and higher education providers. The external panel will validate the internal assessment, agree a final ranking of proposals and confirm a final portfolio taking into account the balance of proposed activities.

29. Following assessment and validation in late June 2016, the HEFCE Chief Executive, acting on delegated authority from the HEFCE Board, will consider the recommendations of the external validation panel. This will take place in July 2016. Institutions whose bids are successful will be informed within one week of the Chief Executive’s decision; this will include confirmation of the funding to be allocated.

30. The approximate timetable for this Phase 1 funding call is set out below.

Phase 1 date

Phase 1 event

20 June 2016

Deadline for submission of proposals

20 June to 6 July

Assessment of proposals

Week beginning 11 July

External validation panel meeting

Week beginning 18 July

Panel recommendations considered by HEFCE Chief Executive

Late summer

Outcomes published


Approved projects under way

Early November

Preliminary reports due

DADF workshop for all funded institutions (location and time details to be confirmed)

Autumn 2017

Final reports due

Second DADF workshop (details to be confirmed)

Monitoring arrangements

31. Funded institutions will be expected to engage with a HEFCE-appointed evaluator as well as with other funded institutions. As set out in the table above, we also expect institutions to attend at least one workshop at which lessons learned can be shared and fed into developing policy, including the second call for submissions.

32. We will monitor the development over time of degree apprenticeships at institutions. This will be done through the Individualised Learner Record submitted to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, but may also include the separate identification of degree apprentices in the Higher Education Students Early Statistics and Higher Education in Further Education: Students survey returns that institutions submit to us from 2016-17 onward. Further information about such data requirements will be provided in due course.

33. Additional terms, conditions and monitoring arrangements may be agreed and included in individual award letters.

Freedom of Information Act 2000

34. HEFCE is subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which gives a public right of access to information held by a public authority. This may mean that applications, communications between us and institutions, information arising from the work undertaken or its outputs become subject to disclosure if a valid request is made to us. We will comply with such requests in accordance with the legislation and our own policies.

35. Institutions can, if they wish, provide potentially sensitive information (such as information relating to commercial interests) in a separate annex attached to the application form. This will highlight to us that there are concerns over disclosure. With annexes, the proposal must not exceed the maximum length as stated in the application template. Where we consider it to be appropriate and practicable, we will seek the views of applicants before disclosing this information. The applicant acknowledges that information provided in the annex is of indicative value only and that HEFCE may nevertheless be obliged to disclose this information. Our assumption will be that all information in the main application documents can be disclosed on request.

Further information

36. Further information about the Freedom of Information Act can be found on the Information Commissioner’s website.

37. If you have queries, please contact your HEFCE institutional teams. A searchable list of institutional contacts is available.

Yours sincerely

Madeleine Atkins

Chief Executive


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Annex A: Template for applications for Phase 1 funding

Download the Annex A: Template for applications for Phase 1 funding as MS Word (85 KB)

Annex B: Funding letter from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills

Download the Annex B: Funding letter from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills as PDF (243 KB)

Date: 5 May 2016

Ref: Circular letter 06/2016

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Vocational education, Work placements and employability, Access and student success, Postgraduate education, Employer partnerships