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Frequently asked questions

Questions about degree apprenticeships

1. How many apprenticeships are to be developed?

The Government aims to support 3 million new apprenticeship starts by the end of this parliament. This was a Conservative Manifesto pledge and appears in the Productivity Plan 'Fixing the foundations: creating a more prosperous nation'. Following government oversight moving from the former Department of Business Innovation and Skills to the Department for Education, apprenticeships remain a key part of the Government’s approach to extending opportunity.

Apprenticeships can be levels 2-7. Degree apprenticeships are at levels 6 and 7.

2. What is a degree apprenticeship?

This is an apprenticeship during the course of which an employee gains a degree at bachelors level (6) or masters level (7). Degree apprentices will be employed for a minimum of 30 hours per week and will receive a salary. Learning fits around that work commitment and requires flexible learning through block release, distance, or blended learning.

3. How many of the 3 million apprenticeships should be at degree apprenticeship level (levels 6 or 7)?

There are no targets for numbers of degree apprenticeships, or for apprenticeships at any other level.

There is a target for public sector organisations employing over 250 people in England. They will be expected to ensure that at least 2.3 per cent of their staff are apprenticeship starts.

There is also a change to government procurement rules which now stipulate that bidders for central government contracts worth more than £10 million and lasting over 12 months must demonstrate their commitment to apprentices.

4. What are the benefits of degree apprenticeships?

There are benefits for individuals in undertaking a degree apprenticeship, and for higher education institutions (HEIs) in providing them, both as employers and as HE providers. 

For an individual, a degree apprenticeship offers an opportunity to study while working. Tuition fees are paid by the employer or government funding, and apprentices are also paid a salary for their employment. This means degree apprentices can earn a wage while completing a bachelor’s degree without student debt. They can also develop the skills, knowledge and behaviours required by employers for specific occupations which are in demand.

For higher education providers, there are opportunities to widen access and provide more routes to progression to professional employment. Apprenticeships provide HEIs and their college partners with opportunities to recruit new cohorts of learners and to widen access to higher education. Many HEIs may wish to incorporate apprenticeships into their strategies for working with employers on research and knowledge exchange. 

For employers, a more highly educated workforce can contribute to the productivity of their organisation. By developing the existing workforce and recruiting new staff through degree apprenticeships employers can fill vacancies where there have been higher level skills gaps.

5. When does the apprenticeship levy come into play?

The apprenticeship levy comes into effect from April 2017.

The first levies will be paid towards the end of April and employers will be able to commit their levy to vetted apprenticeship training providers from 1 May 2017.

A new digital service is being created for levy paying employers to use as an online account.

The levy is intended as a means to fund the training of the future workforce and amounts to a tax of 0.5 per cent of the wage bill of those employers whose salary costs are £3 million or more per annum. HM’s Revenue and Customs is responsible for operation of the levy as a tax.

6. How much money will be generated by the levy and what can the levied funds be spent on?

The levy should generate approximately £3 billion by the end of this parliament. This will increase government spending on apprenticeships in England from £1.5 billion last year to £2.5 billion in 2019-20.

Employers who pay the levy will see the money they have paid for English apprenticeships appear in their digital account. They will be able to spend it on apprenticeship training, but only on apprenticeship training, and employers will be able to get out more than they put in. The levy cannot be spent on ad hoc staff development such as health and safety training or executive coaching.

7. How does the apprenticeship levy work in the other UK nations?

Although the apprenticeship levy is paid by employers throughout the UK, what happens to the funds outside of England is dependent on the devolved governments in each country. If an employer operates in more than one part of the UK, HMRC will allocate a portion of the levy to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland as applicable. Read the Apprenticeship Levy Manual for more information.

8. How will small and medium-sized enterprises be affected?

Small and medium-sized businesses, which will not pay the levy, will still benefit from government funding for apprenticeships. Those enterprises with a total wage bill under £3 million will receive help from the Government to support their staff in undertaking apprenticeships in the form of significant contributions (90 per cent in most cases) towards the cost of apprenticeship training.

From 2018, non-levy payers within the supply chains of levy-paying organisations may also benefit from being able to access some of the levy funds paid by larger organisations if agreed with those larger organisations. The ESFA provides further guidance on its website.

9. Can any higher education provider participate in an apprenticeship?

Providers of apprenticeships at any level must be registered with the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) via its Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP). Please refer to the ESFA for guidance on registration requirements.

The apprenticeships system is being reformed and is under transition. We highly recommend that those seeking to bid for funds under Phase 2 fully engage with the relevant ESFA processes to ensure that they comply with their requirements.

HEFCE has contracted the Universities Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) to provide support with the ESFA processes to all higher education providers upon request. Listen to recording of a webinar on the RoATP. UVAC can be contacted directly for further support.

Higher education providers can also work with employers in groups called trailblazers to develop new apprenticeship standards, over whose content and shape they will then have influence.

10. If a higher education provider is on the Register, does it need an ESFA contract to deliver degree apprenticeships?

Yes. In addition to inclusion on ESFA’s Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers, a higher education provider will need a funding contract with ESFA in order to be paid for delivery of its apprenticeship training if the training is provided to non-levy-paying employers. ESFA has published funding rules and guidance and UVAC can advise on this process further.

11. What’s the difference between Apprenticeship Frameworks and Apprenticeship Standards?

Apprenticeship Frameworks have been used to specify the knowledge, competences and integrated qualifications required to complete an apprenticeship. There are approximately 50 frameworks. These are being replaced by Apprenticeship Standards, though the precise timetable for this process has yet to be determined and some frameworks may continue to be used for several years. The Government expects a general migration from Frameworks to Standards over the course of this parliament. 

Apprenticeship Standards are being developed by groups of employers called trailblazers. The standards outline the knowledge, skills and behaviours employers define as required to be competent in a specific occupation. This shift to employer-defined standards reflects the Government’s prioritisation of employers in the new apprenticeship system and the overall skills agenda.

UVAC can advise on the process for establishing a trailblazer group as well as the particular areas of interest for apprenticeship development. See the list of approved Apprenticeship Standards

12. Can HE providers receiving apprenticeship funding from ESFA still draw down high-cost funding from HEFCE?

ESFA funding is provided to off-set the costs associated with the delivery of apprenticeships specifically. HEFCE funding is delivered to institutions to support delivery of learning and teaching in higher education. HEFCE grants are determined by student numbers in certain categories deemed to require higher levels of funding than is provided by student tuition fees alone, like high-cost subjects.

It is possible that a degree apprentice will attract HEFCE funding if they are undertaking provision that is deemed high-cost, but that funding is intended to support delivery of the provision itself rather than to support the apprentice or the delivery of the apprenticeship specifically.

13. Is there a limit to the amount a higher education institution can charge to support the delivery of a degree apprenticeship?

No. For a degree apprenticeship based on a Standard, the cost of delivering the apprenticeship will be agreed between the employer and the HE provider. The cap level for the apprenticeship will fall within one of 15 funding bands, and specifies the maximum contribution the Government will make to the training and assessment of the apprenticeship.

14. What is the apprenticeship service?

The apprenticeship service (previously referred to as the Digital Apprenticeship Service) is an online portal for employers through which they can post apprenticeship vacancies, find apprenticeship courses and course providers, and manage their apprenticeships. This is managed by the Education and Skills Funding Agency. The ‘find an apprenticeship’ service, where potential apprentices can search listed apprenticeships, and can be found at  

Under the new levy-based apprenticeship system, employers will act as consumers, purchasing apprenticeship provision from providers. This new system will replace the existing apprenticeship allocation system managed by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA). ESFA and officials in the Department for Education are aiming for the new system to provide employers with absolute transparency over how much money they have contributed and what they can spend it on.

15. What is the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education?

The Institute for Apprenticeships, launched in April 2017, is a new employer-led body that approves new standards and ensures that apprenticeship quality is maintained. From 2018 it will also have oversight of technical education and ensuring the Technical Education reforms align with the apprenticeship programme.

16. How can higher education institutions or further education colleges find out more about developing and providing degree apprenticeships?

HEFCE is funding the University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) to offer expert advice to all providers of higher education on setting up degree apprenticeships. Their website includes guidance and frequently asked questions, and they can also provide advice to individual providers.

All institutions that sought UVAC support for RoATP applications in the first application window were successful in their applications. In addition, Universities UK and the Association of Graduate Recruiters (now the Institute of Student Employers) received Phase 1 DADF funding to undertake two surveys on degree apprenticeship supply and demand.

The ESFA website will also provide guidance on their requirement for training providers delivering or looking to deliver degree apprenticeships.

17. Who is responsible for carrying out health and safety checks on employer placements for apprentices?

It is the duty of the employer to ensure that there are appropriate health and safety procedures in place for all employees, including apprentices.

The Department for Education will publish funding bands and a provider can, if they wish, negotiate additional sums to cover elements of the training that they think appropriate. However, we do not expect this will change the HE provider responsibilities for health and safety under the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) as with other work-based provision, and therefore we recommend HE providers remain alert to further guidance on this from the Education and Skills Funding Agencyand QAA.

18. Do funding bands include VAT?

Funding bands do not include VAT.

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Questions about the development fund

1. How much funding is available?

There is a total of £8.5 million funding available through the Degree Apprenticeship Development Fund (DADF). £8 million was provided originally to support DADF, and an additional £500,000 was made available by the Department for Education in response to the volume of high-quality proposals in Phase 1. The final amount allocated in Phase 1 was £4.5 million, and £4 million will be available for allocation in Phase 2.

The call for funding from Phase 2 of the DADF will be launched in spring 2017. DADF funds allocated to higher education providers in Phase 2 must be spent by March 2018. 

2. What if we are not able to spend all of the funding by the end of March 2018?

Phase 2 funded provision would commence in September 2018, compared with Phase 1 where bids were sought that could lead to the delivery of degree apprenticeships from September 2017.

We will assess bids based on cost and spending profiles, and the capability of higher education providers to meet the planned spending profile will be monitored throughout the period of funding to manage any risk of unspent funding. We expect spending plans to be realistic and achievable.

3. How will the assessment criteria for Phase 2 differ to those for Phase 1?

The assessment criteria for Phase 2 do not substantially differ from those used in Phase 1, with the exception of a new criteria relating to social mobility. Differences have been introduced into the template application form, primarily to provide more information for HEFCE, the panel, and those assessing the bids. Priority areas for Phase 2 differ from Phase 1 in that we would particularly welcome bids that seek to address particular priority areas, including social mobility, gender in STEM subjects, and local skills priorities.

We have indicated a budget for Phase 2 of £4 million. There are minor changes to the FAQs, the information in the circular letter, and to the form from those for Phase 1, and so we recommend that institutions read these documents carefully before submitting their bids.

4. What if my institution is successful in a funding application to HEFCE in Phase 2, but for some reason we are not successful in getting onto the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers, or securing any further requirements from the Education and Skills Funding Agency before delivery can commence?

Depending on individual circumstances, we would delay allocation of funding until a higher education provider can evidence it has met the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) requirements for delivery. We would, however, recommend that all appropriate and timely action is taken to ensure that the ESFA processes are undertaken so that they are completed in good time.

Funding allocated as part of Phase 2 will need to be spent by the end of March 2018.

5. Can we use the funding for apprenticeships at lower levels?

This funding can only be used to develop degree apprenticeships at levels 6 or 7 (equivalent to bachelors degrees and postgraduate awards).

6. How do we register with the Education and Skills Funding Agency?

To deliver a degree apprenticeship, higher education providers will have to:

  • be registered on the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP) if they want to offer apprenticeships from 1 May 2017
  • be registered on the Register of Apprentice Assessment Organisation (RoAAO) if they want to offer apprenticeship end point assessments, including for integrated degrees
  • hold a funding agreement with the Agency if relevant, for instance for the provision of apprenticeship training to non-levy payers.

There are application windows throughout the year to join the RoATP. To be notified of opportunities for applying to RoATP, please register with Bravo, the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s e-tendering portal. The support guide for the e-tendering portal provides further details.

7. Our institution has not yet received a non-levy payer allocation, or has only received a small allocation based upon our Register of Training Organisations registration, due to the pause in the non-levy payer procurement process managed by the ESFA. Can we bid for DADF funding to develop provision for non-levy payers based upon future allocations that we may receive in December 2017?

As it is currently understood that allocations based upon the non-levy payer procurement exercise will not be known until later in the year, institutions must base their DADF Phase 2 applications upon their known position as of 6 June 2017. Payments to those institutions that are successful in the application for funding from the DADF will be made during the period from September 2017 to March 2018, and therefore we are unable to make provisional allocations based upon the outcomes of the non-levy procurement exercise.

8. Can development funding be allocated only to HEFCE-funded institutions?

Yes. Organisations without a HEFCE funding agreement may act as partners in bids and may receive funding indirectly subject to a clear rationale provided in the bid.

9. Can alternative providers bid for DADF funding?

Institutions that are not HEFCE-funded may not submit individual bids for the DADF, but we hope to see bids come forward which include alternative providers as partners.

10. Can further education colleges lead bids?

Yes. Bids can be submitted by any HEFCE-funded institution, whether a higher education institution or a further education college. Either can act as lead institutions on individual or consortium bids. Institutions of any type may not lead more than one bid.

11. Must consortia include more than one higher education institution in order to exceed the £250,000 limit?

Yes, in order for consortia bids to exceed the £250,000 limit, up to a ceiling of £500,000, they must include more than one higher education institution.

12. Can one institution apply for both competitive calls?

Yes, it is possible for an institution to submit proposals for both Phase 1 and Phase 2 funding, subject to the proposal comprising different activities and a clear rationale for additional funding. Institutions that were successful in securing funding from Phase 1 of the DADF may apply for further funding from Phase 2, although the programme of work would need to be additional to the Phase 1 funded activity. Phase 2 funding is not available for activities that have been funded in Phase 1. 

13. Do we have to work with employers?

Yes. Degree apprentices are employees who work at least 30 hours a week while studying to earn a degree-level qualification. In the apprenticeship model, employers select the programme of study and the training provider of their choice to deliver that programme. Therefore, institutions must work directly with employers to ensure their proposed curriculum meets employer needs, and that any proposed provision being developed matches employer demand.

14. What can the funding be used for? Are there restrictions on what we can use the funding for?

To receive this funding, it is expected that proposals will bring 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.

We expect the funding to support a range of activities, including:

  • conversion of successful closed or sponsored degrees into degree apprenticeships
  • curriculum design and development
  • collaboration with employers and other stakeholders (for example, professional bodies)
  • building provider capacity for quality curriculum and assessment design and delivery
  • partnerships with other higher education providers
  • engaging with trailblazer groups to advise on teaching and learning. We may support the role of providers in bringing together interests to form trailblazer groups, but once a trailblazer group is formed there should be no use of DADF money to support a trailblazer group – directly, in kind, or indirectly. Once the trailblazer group is officially recognised, providers must take an advisory role only.

If you are bidding for funds to support any of the activities above, you may also use the funding to identify and develop future demand from employers for new provision.

Through the funded activity, bidders may develop degree apprenticeships that support social mobility, and we would be interested in receiving bids that draw connections between funded activity and local and national skills priorities.

We expect that most of this funding will enable staff time to be devoted to these activities rather than being spent on equipment or facilities. Where some work is already under way we expect to see clear descriptions of the progress an institution has made prior to funding, and what this funding will enable that could not have been achieved otherwise. Examples might include a quicker timeline to delivery, offering greater choice, or attempting new provision that may have seemed small scale or too innovative. We do not expect this funding to replace existing income streams or to fund activities already taking place.

15. What are the deadlines for the call?

The deadline for submitting proposals for Phase 2 funding is noon on Tuesday 6 June 2017.

Funding will be allocated in summer 2017 to support development of degree apprenticeships starting from September 2018.

16. Can institutions lead more than one bid?

No, institutions may not lead more than one bid, whether an individual bid or a consortium bid. Higher education institutions and further education colleges may act as lead institution on one bid each, but can also act as partners on other bids.

17. Does an institution have to be delivering degree apprenticeships already?

No. The development fund is meant to increase degree apprenticeship capacity in the sector which means many institutions will not have any existing degree apprenticeship provision. The fund can support activities to develop those degree apprenticeships and it can accelerate activities already under way.

18. Can funding support development of new trailblazer standards?

Only employers can set up a trailblazer group but higher education providers may connect employers who could then make up a trailblazer group themselves. DADF funding supports the role of providers in bringing together interests to form trailblazer groups, but once a trailblazer group is formed there should be no use of DADF money to support a trailblazer group – directly, in kind, or indirectly. Once the trailblazer group is officially recognised, providers must take an advisory role only.

The development fund is intended to prepare the higher education market for degree apprenticeships by increasing capacity and expertise in developing and delivering them.

Any degree apprenticeship developed by a HEFCE-funded institution must be mapped against an approved trailblazer standard. See approved trailblazer standards. Trailblazer standards are developed and agreed by employers and employer groups.

19. Can proposals from a single institution comprise more than one degree apprenticeship programme?

Yes, proposals can include more than one degree apprenticeship programme. There is no stated minimum, maximum or ‘ideal’ number of programmes to be developed in any bid.

20. Can bids that were submitted in Phase 1 but did not secure funding be resubmitted?

Institutions that were unsuccessful in Phase 1 may resubmit their bids in Phase 2. However, institutions should reflect on feedback received and attempt to improve their bids to the extent possible before resubmitting.

There are also minor changes to the submission documentation, the guidance in the circular letter, and these FAQs, so institutions are advised to read this information before submission.

21. What evidence of employer commitment is required at the application stage?

A letter of support from any partner (including employers) should capture the state of engagement at the time. It should act as a statement by organisational accountable officers that they are working with the lead institution, including information on the nature and anticipated outcomes of the project.

We can always return to institutions during the assessment phase if we require additional information. However, those bidding should ensure information relating to the employers’ level of interest and involvement is clear.

22. If the development work fails to deliver one of the proposed programmes by September 2018, what are the consequences?

We would expect to approach this proportionately and in line with other competitive funding rounds. We anticipate paying out grants according to payment profiles designed to mitigate paying in advance of need or towards projects which are falling short of their aims.

As these projects are a development activity, we accept that lessons will be gained from those which fall short of their aims despite best efforts, and we would not look to penalise institutions in that position. However, assessors of the bids will judge the feasibility of the proposed delivery when judging the bids against the criteria.

It will be necessary to maintain ongoing discussions with the policy team running the DADF and to alert the team as early as possible when delays or obstacles are detected so that a course of action can be agreed.

23. Which level of qualification do applicants need to be accepted onto a degree apprenticeship programme?

This is up to the employer hiring the apprentice. HEFCE does not establish the qualifications or standards against which employees should be judged as suitable.

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Questions about quality assurance

1. How is the quality of apprenticeships assured?

There are two bodies with statutory duties for educational quality assessment: Ofsted and HEFCE. Historically, Ofsted has also assured the quality of apprenticeships. Now that apprenticeships are being developed at the higher levels, some of Ofsted and HEFCE’s statutory duties overlap.

Ofsted is responsible for inspecting the quality of apprenticeship training provision at levels 2 and 3. HEFCE is responsible for assuring quality of provision at levels 6 and 7. For levels 4 and 5, Ofsted and HEFCE will work together to assure quality of apprenticeships containing prescribed higher education qualifications as dictated by their standards. For all level 4 and 5 apprenticeships where prescribed HE is not dictated by their standards, Ofsted will retain the duty to assure quality.

2. How will Ofsted and HEFCE work together at levels 4 and 5?

We are currently conducting a pilot year in which we are visiting higher education providers who deliver level 4 and 5 apprenticeships to explore how a joint working arrangement can work between our two organisations. We aim to submit our findings to the Department for Education in spring 2018.

3. What is prescribed HE?

Prescribed HE courses that are funded by HEFCE include: higher degrees (including PhD, MPhil, MSc, MA and MBAs); postgraduate diplomas; PGCEs; first degrees including foundation degrees, BSc, BA, BEd; foundation degree bridging courses where these are integrated into the final years of a first degree; HNDs and HN; DipHE; 120-credit Diploma in Education and Teaching; and CertEds.   

4. Will institutions be required to submit data in addition to what is already submitted to HEFCE or ESFA?

The pilot activity is meant to identify where there are data gaps that may require additional data capture. Additional data will only be required where gaps are identified. We will share that learning once the pilot activity has concluded.

5. How will we know what might change in terms of assuring quality of apprenticeships?

For the time being, institutions can operate business as usual because any HE qualification included as part of a higher or degree apprenticeship is already assured through HEFCE’s quality assurance process. Once the pilot activity concludes, and we know the outcome of the current consultation on the Office for Student’s new higher education regulatory framework, we will be in a position to clarify expectations around quality assurance of all HE provision (including apprenticeships).

6. Is there any support available at the moment?

HEFCE has recorded a webinar outlining the current arrangements for quality assurance of apprenticeships and our intentions for the pilot activity with Ofsted.

View the webinar or download the slides

7. Does HEFCE retain responsibility for level 6 apprenticeships even if they do not contain a prescribed higher education qualification? 

Yes. As per the Institute for Apprenticeships' Accountability Statement, HEFCE will retain responsibility for quality assurance of all apprenticeships at levels 6 and above; Ofsted will retain responsibility for all apprenticeships at levels 2 and 3; and we will come to a joint working arrangement for those apprenticeships at levels 4 and 5 that contain prescribed HE as part of the standards. For all those level 4 and 5 apprenticeships that do not contain HE qualifications as part of the standard, Ofsted will retain responsibility.

8. We've never had an Ofsted inspection before because we are a university delivering only higher education. If we choose to deliver apprenticeships at level 5, will we be subject to Ofsted inspection?

If the level 4 or 5 apprenticeship standard indicates that a prescribed higher education qualification is mandatory, then HEFCE and Ofsted will work together to assure the quality of that provision. Our pilot activity is intended to confirm the details of that joint working.

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Page last updated 17 November 2017

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