Support gap found in non-traditional HE pathways

degree apprentice ucas video

19 June 2017

  • Not enough clear information is available to support students to choose from the range of pathways to higher education, according to a new UCAS study
  • Progression Pathways 2017 launched to make students’ options clear
  • Aston heavily featured in a new video highlighting the four key progression pathways due to its unrivalled expertise in degree apprenticeships

Now more than ever before, there are a wide range of opportunities that offer progression through higher education (HE) in the UK, but not enough clear information and guidance is available to support students to choose the right one, according to a new UCAS study.

The four main non-traditional routes examined in Progression Pathways 2017 are: foundation years; foundation degrees; higher national qualifications; and degree and higher level apprenticeships.

As an experienced provider and leading authority on degree apprenticeships, Aston University has been heavily involved in the production of a new video by UCAS which will highlight the key progression pathways available to prospective students – in a new effort to raise awareness of all the options available. The first degree apprentices in the country will graduate from Aston, in conjunction with consulting, technology and outsourcing service provider Capgemini, this summer.

While these pathways present valuable opportunities suitable for people in different life circumstances, who may not be able to commit to a full time on-campus degree, this report reveals that many students are unaware of the different routes or do not fully understand what they entail.

Students, teachers and advisers also claim there is insufficient information about this range of pathways, how they differ and their outcomes. This is particularly the case for degree apprenticeships, introduced in England in September 2015, where the current application process is described as complex, confusing and opaque.

Nonetheless, degree apprenticeships provide an exciting opportunity for young people. They can achieve a bachelor’s degree, without incurring fees, while being in employment and receiving a salary. Notably, Aston University was the first HE institution to offer degree apprenticeships, with the first ever cohort due to graduate this summer.

The report also points out the potential risks to more established pathways as degree apprenticeships are implemented. Options such as Foundation Degrees and Higher Nationals provide a valuable incremental route through HE for those who want or need it, some of whom will come from disadvantaged backgrounds.  It asks those providers who may be considering the withdrawal of such pathways to think carefully about those young people who would continue to benefit from their proven flexibility.

Progression Pathways 2017 supports greater visibility for all these pathways, and recommends that higher education providers undertake research to evaluate and understand the outcomes for students taking studying them. They should also adopt consistent terminology and publish clear information about the qualifications likely to be achieved, including how these support progression to further study and employment.

Teachers and advisers should ensure that they understand the latest developments in these pathways, particularly in relation to higher and degree apprenticeships. They should be able to present the pros and cons to students when comparing these options to other higher education alternatives.

Professor Ian Nabney, Executive Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Aston University, said: “Degree apprenticeships offer a valuable option to applicants whose learning style is less suited to a traditional on-campus study route. The difference in the mode of delivery, allowing them to apply their learning in the workplace rather than the classroom, gives those with the right skills and aptitudes a challenging but rewarding route to graduate level jobs”.

In respect of higher and degree apprenticeships, the report goes on to recommend that employers ensure the channels used to advertise vacancies and process applications are clear and transparent, and inclusive of the wide range of qualifications learners take – not just A levels.

Andrew Hargreaves, Interim Chief Executive UCAS, said: “This report provides insight into these progression pathways at an interesting and exciting time. It’s fantastic to see the range of pathways currently offered by the higher education system throughout the UK to ensure it meets the needs of people of different ages and in different circumstances.

“And while the three or four year full-time on-campus degree remains the backbone of the system and a benchmark, these pathways offer a different set of opportunities for students and universities alike. By raising awareness and providing clearer information about these options, we can help students choose a pathway that will help them to achieve their full potential and career aspirations.”

The full report can be viewed here.


Notes to the editor

About Progression Pathways 2017

The project aims to identify the key progression opportunities and challenges associated with four key pathways through a report and video content.

The methodology for the project included desk research and literature reviews. Visits and in-depth interviews were central to the process to ensure a sound understanding of the issues as they play out in practice. The research phase involved visits to and in-depth interviews with:

  • Higher Education providers
  • Universities, colleges, training providers
  • Admissions tutors: academic staff responsible for work-based learning, apprenticeships, academic departments and admissions tutors
  • Degree and higher apprentices
  • Awarding Organisations
  • Professional Associations and representative bodies: for schools, colleges, training providers and universities
  • Sixth form providers
  • Government departments in Wales and Northern Ireland
  • The Scottish Qualifications Authority

Availability across the UK

  • Foundation years: only available in England and Wales except for the more specialized options of medicine and art and design
  • Foundation degrees: available in England, Northern Ireland and Wales
  • Higher National qualifications: available in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales
  • Higher and degree level apprenticeships: available in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales; degree level apprenticeships at a more advanced stage in England

About Aston University

  • Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston University has been always been a force for change. For more than 50 years the University has been transforming lives through pioneering research, innovative teaching and graduate employability success. Aston is renowned for its opportunity enabler through broad access and inspiring academics, providing education that is applied and has real impact on all areas of society, business and industry. True to Aston’s Coat of Arms which bears the word ‘Forward’, in 2016 Aston recently held a year-long anniversary celebration to recognise its heritage and achievements, but with a focus to drive forward the next stage in the University’s exciting journey. 

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