UCAS

Degree Apprenticeships: The balance of promotion vs opportunity

A often repeated recommendation in lots of reports in the education policy sphere is to improve the Careers advice on offer to young people as authors conclude that this would have beneficial outcomes for the focus of their research. Sometimes these pleas have merit but sometimes they feel to me that the authors are reaching for a scapegoat to direct attention from more relevant failings elsewhere in the system. A recent example of this can be found in this report on degree apprenticeships from Universities UK.

The report reaches a number of sensible conclusions on the worth of degree apprenticeships to the economy and the skills pipeline but also on how to grow and promote the route. The CEIAG related recommendations are that

universities report 3

Which, on the face of it, is a recommendation (alongside the wider belief of the report that degree apprenticeships are extremely valuable routes) that I’m sure much of the Careers community would agree with. Investment in the system is certainly towards the top of the concerns of Career Leaders who are tasked by law to provide information on the variety of routes open to school leavers. What intrigued me though is the assertion that a “fit for purpose” CEIAG system dedicate equal time to degree apprenticeships considering the current data on opportunity and that this would increase their numbers

The report includes some survey data that highlights the distance to travel with improving the knowledge of students about degree apprenticeships.

universities report 4

(which includes a mistake in the height of the “I know everything/ a lot” response bar for eligibility requirements) but that still shows roughly a quarter of students believe themselves to be knowledgeable about the route. We also know from other survey sources that over half of students are now receiving information about apprenticeships but some of this isn’t then getting through to parents.

apprenticeships survey1

Which, even at roughly a quarter of students, equals a lot of young people being told about degree apprenticeships. There is a lot more to dig into here around the weighing of positive vs negative messaging that pupils are receiving about apprenticeships. The report includes concerns aired by parents about the route

Parents, in particular, expressed the anxiety, in focus groups, that degree apprenticeships are a cheap form of labour and exploitation of young people. They raised concerns about the quality of the learning provision and the kinds of skills and knowledge that students would gain through these apprenticeships, often  voicing the belief that these would be narrowly and mechanistically focused on the needs of the employer, rather than advantaging the learner.

but, surprisingly to me, no concerns over the numbers of opportunities actually accessible to their children.

18 year old population

In 2017 there were 766,000 18 year olds in the UK with the ONS forcasting numbers to fall until 2020 when the population bump will cause them to rise. As 18 year olds are the youngest cohort to be able to apply for degree apprenticeships, Universities UK are roughly saying that 191,500 students come into the labour market potentially informed about degree apprenticeships as a route.

From a labour market intelligence standpoint this is a huge mismatch between demand and opportunity. Degree apprenticeships (Level 6) are a relatively new route in the labour market

apprenticeship starts1

but a route that is growing in starts year on year. The report says

the number of degree apprenticeship starts has increased, from 1,614 in 2016–17 to 7,114 in the first four months of 2018/19 (IfATE, 2019). The top five degree apprenticeship standards are Chartered Manager, Digital and Technology Solutions Professional, Senior Leader, Chartered Surveyor and Registered Nurse, and the range of degree apprenticeships increased from 11 in 2016–17 to 32 currently.

Those 7,114 degree apprenticeship opportunities is still tiny in number though compared to the number of 18 year olds entering the post Level 3 labour market as shown above. The previous qualification levels of that cohort should not be a barrier to applying for degree apprenticeships as over 275,000 of them are applying for University courses.

Even then the 7,114 number is a false figure as many degree apprenticeships are currently taken by older learners

newplot

and the growth in degree apprenticeships is being driven by firms enrolling older workers onto these schemes.

82 per cent more people aged 25 and over doing higher-level apprenticeships at levels 4 and above, according to FE Week analysis.

Meanwhile, starts at level 2 have plummeted by 51 per cent and starts by 16- to 18-year-olds have dropped by 23 per cent since the year before the apprenticeship reforms were introduced in May 2017.

In that time, starts by those aged 25 and above at levels 4 upwards increased by 69 per cent.

There is, as far as I know, no publicly available data on how many degree apprenticeship starts are new hires from an advertised vacancy. Many, including some highlighted in the Universities UK report are not new jobs but training opportunities for already hired employees.

On one nursing degree apprenticeship programme, delivered in a collaboration between the University of Sunderland and four NHS trusts, all 64 of the degree apprentices are currently healthcare assistants working within the trusts

Other examples include

This even further reduces the number of available opportunities actually open for young school leavers to apply to. The Universities UK report is silent on how the expansion in careers learning dedicated to degree apprenticeships should tackle the issue of those opportunities being the third, fourth or even fifth steps in a school leavers progression.

There is a balance to be found in raising awareness and promotion of a route with the labour market intelligence of that route actually being obtainable to your audience. Even when opportunity is scarce, LMI does not have to be a negative influencer but a motivator to inspire clients on the steps to take but at some point those wishing to promote degree apprenticeships are going to have to acknowledge that a) overly positive framing can result in negative perceptions as many young people will this exciting route far too difficult to obtain and b) there are other routes in that market that appeal to clients and so deserve the focus of careers learning exactly because of their widespread opportunity.

Careers apps

Back in December 2018, the DfE announced two winners of a £300,000 funding pot open for digital IAG tools that would help young people make more informed choices about their University choice both in regard to provider and subject. Now, in April 2019, both of the tools have launched.

Offering IAG through digital platforms to young people has a mixed track record (we’ll always have the memory of Plotr) but practitioners know they can be a fundamental resource to use with your client base.

The two apps take different approaches to how they inform and advise their users with the Higher Education data now available. It’s worth saying that both platforms are (at the time of writing) still in beta testing so improvements in design, layout and usability will be ongoing and any judgments should be made with that in mind. The first app, ThinkUni is described as a “personalised digital assistant’ bringing together data on universities, courses and financial outcomes that are easy to explore and compare” and is from a team that has a good track record in offering social mobility enhancing schemes through the Brilliant Club. The current site looks fairly basic with text drop down boxes asking users on their preferences on University study (city or campus, course reputation or earnings outcomes etc).

think uni1On first impressions, I found there isn’t much to be impressed with here. The very first question assumes that the user knows what subject they want to study so relies on a baseline that simply isn’t there for a lot of young people and then site assumes that the user will be studying A Levels so widening participation also doesn’t seem to be a concern (I’m sure that other Level 3 qualifications will be incorporated into the site at some point but soft launching without them isn’t a good look). The “digital assistant” selling point is also over played with the course suggestion results being much the same as would result from a search using advanced filters on the UCAS search facility. If the user already knows their views on subject, location, course type etc. to input, then why not just go or be directed to the source site? Currently, the “assistant” part of ThinkUni seems extremely inactive.

The other competition winner comes from The Profs, a team who have previously built a Professional Tutor finding platform, and is a much more interactive looking experience. “The Way Up” games tasks users to pick an avatar and make choices on learning and earning routes at each step of their journey.

way up game1This approach develops a greater sense of ownership in the process and the results as the user is able to modify the route to reflect their own interests while still following the linear structure of the game. The interface isn’t the most aesthetically astounding you’ll see and I also thought that some of the presented LMI was easy to miss on-screen but, once you notice it, the format does incorporate a significant amount of LMI data into each stage. I also think that the biggest learning gain for young people using the platform might not be regarding their career choice or route but the realistic balance to be found when budgeting monthly in-comings and outgoings.

As a format for simulated learning, turn based, point and click games were also used back in the days of late 2000s Aimhigher University visits when one of the regular activities was a web-based game that allowed secondary school students to take control of a new University student avatar and make choices for their study, work and social life. The implications of those choices displayed in a character health chart which valued balance above partying too hard or studying too much. The user was able to see the realistic choices on offer and the consequences of those choices and reflect on how they would react in that possible environment. So the format isn’t new but the inclusion of the LMI and HE data is.

The “Way Up Game” is designed to have the widest possible capture point so that it includes career routes and choice options for lots of young people. At the more specific and detailed end of the simulation market, flight and even truck driving simulations are PC games that can require high level computers to run with the amount of detail their fan base demands while still offering career learning opportunities. More accessible versions of this format can be found in sector skills funded apps such as Construction Manager from the CiTB. Allowing users to take charge of a construction business, hire employees, pitch for contracts and then take on those jobs all presented within a SIMS type graphical interface make for an engaging career learning experience. Place these alongside digital diagnostic tools and digital communication tool there is a rich variety of online CEIAG resource.

Research

Research evidence on the value of digital and online IAG experiences offers some guidance to both of the creative teams on what could help their products have the impact they are looking for with users.

Two excellent summaries of research in this area are the CEC What Works edition: “Careers Websites” and this recent webinar from Tristram Hooley “Approaches to online guidance”

Neither of the two apps offer any links to expanding social networks or sharing results so building users social capital does not seem to be on the agenda.

The CEC document references research from Dunwall et al (2014) which evaluated the MeTycoon careers game and found that

87% of participants said playing the game had given them new career ideas and 66% said they had shared or discussed the game with friends.

The format of “The Way Up Game” more closely matches MeTycoon so those developers will be hoping for that level of impact with their users. The ThinkUni platform perhaps gains research backing with its slight nod towards the user involving CEIAG professionals in the findings from using the site. The CEC summary states:

The use of careers websites should be integrated into schools’ careers education provision, and may be more effective for pupils when use, at least initially, is mediated and supported by careers and education professionals.

Once the user has contemplated their suggestions, the final screen ThinkUni suggests

think uni assistant1

This is only a very slight prompt though. The user is not asked, for example, if they wish to email their results to a named individual which could be a CEIAG professional or school tutor so perhaps both developers would benefit from designing accompanying session plans that could enable teachers/CEIAG practitioners to use the apps in group sessions and build upon the learning experiences of the young people in the room. A further step could even be to incorporate “nudge” techniques by communicating to both user and professional so conversations could occur to see if further research tasks have been undertaken by the user. Neither of the platforms require the involvement of CEIAG professionals in the learning journey of the user.

This failure to build in involvement of practitioners places both of the apps well behind more detailed digital offers such as Start Profile. This program combines both personalisation lead by the user lead and exploration of career routes with LMI drawn from LMI for all and the ability for practitioner oversight and involvement. As this ICEGS evaluation of Start concludes

Start builds on much of what the existing evidence base tells us about the efficacy of online products. It brings together information and advice for a young person and allows them to personalise their learning journey. It offers a blended learning technology in which the school can connect the online learning to classroom based career learning. It builds on longstanding career assessment practices by building a personal profile of work preferences, qualities, skills and interests and using this to match users to jobs and learning opportunities based on their suitability and how available those jobs are in the labour market.

Differences do remain though between Start Profile and these two new apps in their data sources. LMI for All utilises a range of sources (detailed on page 10 here) but they (and so Start Profile) do not seem to include data from the Office for Students on HE access, continuation, attainment and progression.

By side-stepping CEIAG professionals both apps purely user focussed offers but this could still offer positive impact. The CEC Moments of Choice research concluded that young people desire the presentation of careers data that:

moments choice1

and it would be fair to conclude that both apps achieve at least 7 of those requirements to varying degrees. Young people can access the data in a method that is convient to them, when they require it, be safe in the knowledge that it is using reliable sources, receive suggested future actions and be able to personalise it. Only the involvment of influencers is missing.

International comparisons

These formats for offering HE focused CEIAG learning are also available in other countries. For example, Australia has Campus Quest which offers users two games, Campus Quest based on a student attending a University campus and E-Study Quest based on a student studying from home.

The graphical interface is slightly more interesting than both of the new UK apps but in particular the 3D presentation is more eye-catching than “The Way Up” game.

Value

For the DfE to offer funding, policy holders must hope that any resulting resources will add value to the marketplace of existing CEIAG digital products either through successfully filing a niche or building upon existing products. For me, currently the two apps (still at testing stage remember) do neither and they also choose to set aside a proportion of the research in this area. It may be more politically satisfying for the DfE to achieve a new CEIAG platform through this process but questions should be asked whether a more worthy platform could have been achieved through the adaption of existing products and how any resulting products are able to fit into, adapt and shape for the positive the current CEIAG landscape supporting young people.

The calls for a “UCAS – Apprenticeships” portal

Over the years I have been keeping up to date with CEIAG policy and news, a recurring recommendation in Careers reports and speeches has been that Government should establish or encourage a UCAS style portal (let’s call it AAS – Apprenticeship Application Service) through which young people (or anyone I assume) could apply for an Apprenticeship vacancy. It’s promoters believe that this will encourage more young people to apply for and gain apprenticeships and it has resurfaced in the recent Education Select Committee report “The apprenticeships ladder of opportunity: quality not quantity

We recommend that the Government introduces a proper UCAS-style portal for
technical education to simplify the application process and encourage progression to
further training at higher levels. (Paragraph 89)

It has also been raised by Gerald Kelly & Partners in their report “Not for them: Why aren’t teenagers applying for apprenticeships?” which surveyed young people to find that

While almost two-thirds (63%) say if they could apply for apprenticeships using an UCAS-style format they would

While the Social Mobility Commission under Alan Milburn called for

a UCAS-style body to give young people better information about which apprenticeships are available and what career prospects they could lead to

Vocational and Technical education supporters such as the Edge Foundation also promote

 A well designed portal could explain each option in detail and give advice on how and where to apply. The portal would also make signing up for apprenticeships easier and more managed, as this can currently be a lengthy process and students taking GCSEs already have a lot to focus on.

and opinion pieces have called for a “one stop shop” website to be designed.

UCAS is a monopoly service but it does gain buy-in and brand reach beyond education because it offers a consistency of service year on year. The dates of the application cycle are clearly predetermined and the format of a learners application set, no matter whether the learner is applying to the highest tariff Russell Group Universities or a Foundation Degree at the local FE College; the application form is the same. The institutions in receipt of these applications may also add their own requirements post application form submission before making an offer decision (such as an interview or portfolio assessment) but those institutions all still use that initial form and stick to communal deadlines. The application deadline for Oxbridge, Veterinary, Dentistry & Medicine may be sooner than the main application deadline but, within those categories, there is still agreement across all of the institutions offering those courses on a common deadline.

Would a UCAS style portal for Apprenticeships achieve the same goals and how would it be different to the already established “Find An Apprenticeship?”

  1. Timing and deadlines

Employers can hire apprenticeships throughout the year

apprenticeship starts sept 2018

so there isn’t much agreement on common deadlines. You can see from the graph that the trends do show an increase in starts at the end and beginning of the academic year as (mostly larger) employers have moved their recruitment cycles to capture school and college leavers and also start the off the job training component of the apprenticeship in line with the academic year yet a common deadline is still nowhere to be seen. Whereas now UCAS applicants are clear on the common deadline and Advisers are able to structure application advice towards that deadline the proposals of any AAS system do not seem to envisage that employers could only advertise apprenticeship vacancies in certain periods of the year so this would mean that individual employer deadlines would still apply. As the 2016 Employer Perspectives Survey (p 113) shows that around 18% of all UK institutions offer apprenticeships so this would still mean a multitude of deadlines to hit and advisers to be aware of.

2. Employer control over applications

Much of the Government rhetoric over the reform of the Apprenticeship system through the introduction of standards and the levy has been built around the theme of placing employers “at the heart” of apprenticeship training. Presumably this also includes allowing employers to determine their own apprenticeship recruitment processes. Currently employers can list their apprenticeship vacancies on the “Find An Apprenticeship” site (plus their own sites or third-party sites such as “Get My First Job“) and support and advice is offered on how to recruit, but the employer remains in charge of the process. Sometimes an employer will choose to use the more generic application questions and form contained within the Find An Apprenticeship site

Such as this mock application

or require applicants to apply through their own website

site management apprenticeship

This seems to be a flexibility required by employers. The recruitment process an SME will need to source a suitable applicant for a Level 2 vacancy will be very different to the procedure a multinational corporation will undertake on their annual recruitment of a multitude of apprenticeship standards at higher levels. So forcing a common application form onto all employers offering apprenticeships also seems beyond the reach of an AAS.

3. Age of applicants & references

Higher Education applicants of all ages use UCAS to apply but it would fair to say that the majority of HE starters come from applicants who are of a school or college leaving age.

ucas stats

This is not true of those starting apprenticeships

apprenticeship starts

where the majority of current starters from the applicant pool would not be in education to receive support from an Adviser. Of course the very point of the AAS would be to increase the number of younger applicants but that site would have to be one that would accommodate and be user-friendly for applicants of all ages, whether in education or not.

4. Numbers of applicants

All of the reports suggesting a AAS do so in the commendable hope that it would increase the number of young apply for and so starting apprenticeships. With its title, the Gerald Kelly report is particularly flagrant in its acceptance that young people aren’t applying for apprenticeships. This is strange, as I’ve posted about previously, the DfE no longer publishes the data showing apprenticeship applicants by age, only starts. Misappropriating the number of Apprenticeship starts by age as an indicator of the number of applications by age is not acknowledging the historic data we do have which showed that young already apply for apprenticeships in far greater numbers than the number of vacancies posted. For as AAS portal to be truly warranted, the data on applications by age needs to be regularly shared by the DfE.

5. Differences between Find An Apprenticeship

In any of the reports linked, AAS recommendations come seemingly without reference to the Find An Apprenticeship website which already exists or, if they do acknowledge it, they are unclear about what differences the proposed UCAS style Apprenticeships portal would have. Find An Apprenticeship already allows people to search on a common site for all apprenticeships, research opportunities laid out in a standard format and, in some cases, complete an application through the same site. As I have shown, just establishing a new portal with aspirations to be more like UCAS fails to acknowledge or offer solutions to the fundamental differences between the Apprenticeship and Higher Education processes and routes which would leave any new portal looking and performing much the way as the current Find An Apprenticeship already does.

An AAS portal also offers a suggested quick fix which fails to address the central issue. The Gatsby Benchmarks have shown us what works in CEIAG provision. This is time and cost intensive provision as Apprentices themselves acknowledge

and Gatsby evidenced but it is that support that would really enable young people in greater numbers to strive for and successfully secure Apprenticeships.

 

 

In 2018/2019, UCAS will charging schools & colleges for a poorer service

One of the regular annual financial outgoings from a school or College’s CEIAG budget are the various fees to access the different services and registrations for the UCAS advisers website. For education institutions there is no choice but UCAS to administer their learner’s Higher Education applications and this is reflected in the zero charge to become a registered UCAS centre. Where the charges from UCAS do start to rack up though is the extra services on offer to track the progress of offers, replies and acceptances your learners make. These are useful tools for tracking the destinations of learners, the offers they received and how your institution compares to competitors but they come with an individual or packaged price tag.

ucas adviser track fees

Paying for a service is that helps write destination reports and offer a better service to learners is perfectly reasonable. What will cause consternation to those paying for those services from the 2019 application cycle will be the fact that the data they rely upon may be incomplete.

Advisers signing into the 2019 portal will be greeted with this:

ucas 2019 sign in

Which, as I asked UCAS,

means that, from now on, any reports offered by UCAS may be based on incomplete data as learners may not have opted in to share their post application progress with their centre.

Of course GDPR is an important piece of legislation that has fundamentally reframed the way that individuals regard the use of their data both on and off the internet and UCAS Corporate cannot ignore it. What is seems they are willing to ignore though is that they will be charging educational institutions a fee for what will be, in effect, a poorer service and product. They are also oblivious to the potential knock on customer service effect this will have on learners as many will be approaching the source of IAG in their school or College post application only for the Adviser to have no method of checking their application unless the applicant signs in to UCAS Apply/Track themselves. I can see this significantly increasing the number of calls to UCAS support lines as school based IAG advisers find themselves unable to offer much post application IAG as they will not be able to see the learner’s application.

Schools & Colleges should be aware of this change and will have to do their best to encourage their learners to opt in to sharing their post application progress but this will only go so far. Many learners complete their form in their own time, away from school or College, so will go through the terms & conditions section without an Adviser present.

For Careers Leaders in Colleges, writing their Higher Education destinations reports next summer will be much more of a headache than previous years.

 

Some UCAS graphs

This week, I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation by Mary Curnock Cook, the Chief Executive of UCAS.

Some of the slides she went through were striking and I think are worth sharing as they may well help frame your advice & guidance to Key Stage 4 or 5 students.

All slides are the work of Mary & UCAS and are reposted here to help spread the message.

ucas 2

Your leavers until 2020ish are going to be part of a falling population of 18 year olds before the big population bump comes through. This means they will be entering a HE marketplace primed for greater numbers and so very, very keen for their applications and acceptance of offers. This will put those with good grades into a strong position of consumer power.

ucas 3

Similarly, as the warnings about grade inflation have fed through the system the number of ABB+ achieved at A Level has been falling. With the new A Levels and the AS/A Level decoupling, don’t expect this to reverse anytime soon. Those who do achieve ABB+ will be rarer and so hold even more power in their choices.

ucas 4

Mirroring this, predictions don’t seem to be recognising the new landscape. Those students of yours who think, just because they’re being predicted ABB+ that it’s in the bag; it’s not.

ucas 1

Overall though, A Level acceptances have remained steady over recent years while the growth has come from students holding BTEC or combined A Level and BTEC qualifications. If you have BTEC students nervous about how HE will view them, reassure them that they are the growth area.

ucas 7

But that comes with the usual caveats, BTEC and A Level & BTEC combined students are much more likely to progress onto HE institutions with lower tariff requirements. As with a lot of career decisions, this is perfectly acceptable as long as the student is aware of and happy with the future doors they might be closing.

ucas 8

Similarly, BTEC students are more likely to progress onto a narrower band of HE subjects than A Level students who spread out into a broader range of disciplines. Again, perfectly fine if the student is clear and confident in their aims.

Social Mobility

ucas 5

A levels are getting better but aren’t great at getting students from poor backgrounds to access HE (prior attainment will play a large role there).

ucas 6

Whereas BTECs are much better at providing an egalitarian access route to HE.

It’s interesting to combine that information with this data from a recent Yougov/Ofqual survey

that might hint that young people are being a tad sniffy about the “easier route the poor kids take to get to Uni.” You would imagine this should change as the growth in numbers taking BTEC and the curriculum reforms come into play over the next few years.

Cleggy’s Post 16 course emporium

As trailed by this speech last year, yesterday saw the launch of the DfE’s plans to set up a nationwide course database for all Post 16 courses. They envisage that this will be a UCAS style, by Local Authority area, one stop shop for KS4 students to research all of the Post 16 routes available in that region. It will run alongside the current Apprenticeship.GOV site.

The operational guide describes the process that Post 16 providers will have to go through to upload all of their course information to the main database and the timeline they hope to stick to deliver the site(s).

post 16 site timeline

This could be a good thing and in use next academic year. There has been a definite push of Post 16 providers recently who (mindful of the costs) have done away with all written promotional material such as prospectuses and application forms and solely relied on their own websites so most schools are used to dealing with their students accessing course information and applying through online methods alongside traditional prospectuses and forms. That doesn’t mean though that there isn’t a few questions:

1) What does this mean for services already available in this area such as UCAS Progress? When Clegg first announced the idea they were quick to raise their hand in concern but it now looks like a fruitless protest. If the state does this right (always a big if), I can’t imagine Post 16 providers bothering to upload their course data to multiple IAG sites.

2) That timeline could cause issues. Clegg’s February 2014 speech says that the ultimate user websites for young people will be designed and maintained by Local Authorities

Your local authority will be responsible for providing that site, based on the latest information available from schools, colleges and employers

while the Operational Guide concentrates only on the input data. If LA’s do have to set up a site to use this data, the timeline doesn’t leave them much wriggle room depending on how far advanced their existing online IAG offer is.

3) Also on the timeline, Post 16 providers having to upload their Sept 2016 courses by Sept 2015 might cause a bit of head scratching with the changes to the A Level curriculum and the uncertainty over the AS/A Level decoupling that heavily relies on the outcome of the forthcoming election. A Level providers are taking different approaches to the change from Sept 2015, will they all know what they want to do in Sept 2016 by this summer? I’m by no means an expert on the submission of course data to the SFA/EFA that is already a mainstay of the requirements of Post 16 providers, but this is another duty at a time of lots of curriculum and qualification change.

Many years back I helped with the early incarnations of a local area prospectus that was canceled so am wary of big! new! shiny! I.T projects but, with some time behind it and the protocols of the data entry worked through a few times, the resulting course directories have the potential to be a useful addition to any school’s IAG toolkit and will no doubt will be mentioned as a core offer in any future DfE Careers guidance.