Blog: Apprenticeship levy

05 April 2017

The day before the Government's new apprenticeship levy comes in the Russell Group's Acting-Director Dr Tim Bradshaw writes about how to make sure the money will have the most impact.

The Government is committed to boosting apprenticeships as part of a drive to improve the UK’s skills base. From tomorrow, all employers with payrolls in excess of £3 million will pay the new apprenticeship levy, including universities.

Our universities already play a critical role in training future generations and we want to make sure the money is invested in a way that will have the most impact.

Some universities already have their own internal apprenticeship schemes and many others work with industry partners to deliver apprenticeships too. Russell Group universities are engaged in degree apprenticeships and a number, including Queen Mary University of London, the University of Sheffield and the University of Exeter, have been at the forefront of their development and delivery in areas such as digital technology, IT and engineering, among others.

Whilst we welcome investment through the Degree Apprenticeship Development Fund, the significant resource required to set up new provision, particularly in high-cost STEM subjects, remains a barrier. The Government could consider using some of the levy funding to boost support for universities wishing to develop such programmes.

On the levy more broadly, universities find themselves in a difficult position as the ‘apprentices’ they typically need for the future are in fact postgraduate researchers. As it stands, the levy won’t benefit them. We are not saying postgraduate researchers should be redirected into the apprenticeship route, but that there should be recognition these researchers are the lifeblood of one of the UK’s most successful sectors.

They are the next generation of research and innovation leaders who will underpin advances in science and keep the UK at the forefront of cutting-edge research, translation and commercialisation activities. Many will also go on to educate future generations as they bring their research experience into teaching. Their positive impact on the economy and society will be huge.

In our response to the Industrial Strategy Green Paper consultation, we will therefore propose the Government should strengthen the UK’s talent pipeline by allowing a portion of the new apprenticeship levy to be invested in the training and career development of postgraduate researchers.

The most efficient and effective way of targeting this investment would be to use the tools and channels the Government already has at its disposal via the Research and Funding Councils (and in future by UKRI). Additional funding from the levy could be added to the Research Degree Programme supervision fund (RDP) . This already focuses support on high quality research and could be enhanced further as part of the commitment to research and innovation at the heart of the new industrial strategy. 

The Government is right to put a focus on training – now let’s make sure it counts.

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