National Assembly for Wales

Back to Search

Pwyllgor yr Economi, Seilwaith a Sgiliau

Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee

12/03/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Hefin David AM
Helen Mary Jones AM
Joyce Watson AM
Mohammad Asghar AM
Russell George AM Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Vikki Howells AM

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Ben Kinross Swyddog Ymgysylltu â Phrentisiaid, Cymdeithas Genedlaethol y Prentisiaid
Apprentice Engagement Officer, National Society of Apprentices
Cerith Rhys Jones Rheolwr Materion Allanol, Y Brifysgol Agored yng Nghymru
External Affairs Manager, Open University in Wales
Gavin Jones Pennaeth Rhaglenni Gyrfaoedd Cynnar, Airbus
Head of Early Careers Programmes, Airbus
Jassa Scott Cyfarwyddwr Strategol, Estyn
Strategic Director, Estyn
Mark Evans Arolygydd Ei Mawrhydi, Estyn
Her Majesty's Inspector, Estyn
Milly Blenkin Rheolwr Rhaglen Dalent Grŵp GoCo
Talent Programme Manager for GoCo Group
Rhys Daniels Rheolwr Cyflawni Rhaglen Brentisiaeth (Cymru), Y Brifysgol Agored
Apprenticeship Programme Delivery Manager (Wales), Open University
Rob Simkins Llywydd, Undeb Cenedlaethol Myfyrwyr Cymru
President, National Union of Students Wales

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Lara Date Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Phil Boshier Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Robert Lloyd-Williams Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:37.

The meeting began at 09:37.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Croeso, bawb, i Bwyllgor yr Economi, Seilwaith a Sgiliau.

Welcome, everyone, to the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee.

I'd like to welcome members to committee this morning, and I move to item 1. We have no apologies, and if there are any declarations of interest, please say so now. 

2. Papurau i'w nodi
2. Papers to note

In that case, item 2. We have a number of papers to note this morning, which I'll go through. Item 2.1 is our letter to the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales regarding a scrutiny session, follow-up points covering some areas that we didn't quite have time for in committee. Item 2.2 is a letter to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee regarding our session with Jobs Support Wales and asking them to consider if they would like to follow up on our work. 

Item 2.3 is a letter from the chief executive of Transport for Wales to us, clarifying some information he presented when he was with us. He pointed out that some of the information in the session he had with us was incorrect, and he's correcting that in the letter. So that's on the record. 

Item 2.4 is a letter to the Minister for Housing and Local Government regarding the national development framework—sorry, rather from the Minister, just thanking us for our work on that.

And 2.5 is a response from the Welsh Government on the draft budget 2020-21. And 2.6 is a letter from the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, updating us on aspects from our state of the roads inquiry.

And 2.7 is a joint letter from this committee and the Finance Committee to the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales regarding retention payments in the construction sector. Sorry that there were quite a few items to get through today.

3. Gradd-brentisiaethau: Student voice a’r Brifysgol Agored
3. Degree Apprenticeships: Student voice and Open University

And we now move to item 3, and this is our second week and our third panel in regard to our inquiry on degree apprenticeships, and I'd like to welcome members that are with us today that are giving evidence, and perhaps I could ask you initially just to introduce yourselves for the public record. Shall I start from my left?

Yes, sure. My name is Rhys Daniels. I'm the apprenticeship programme delivery manager at the Open University in Wales.

Cerith Rhys Jones, rheolwr materion allanol y Brifysgol Agored yng Nghymru.

Cerith Rhys Jones, external affairs manager, Open University in Wales

09:40

Rob Simkins, NUS Wales president.

And if I come to you, Ben, just checking that you can hear us as well. Ben, do you want to introduce yourself? Ben, we can't hear you at the moment. We'll try and—. Ah, wait a minute. You've got to press a button.

Apologies. Bore da. I'm Ben Kinross. I work with the National Society of Apprentices.

Lovely. Well, thank you all for being with us and perhaps if I ask the—. Members have got a series of questions, but perhaps if I ask the first question, perhaps more directed to Rhys Daniels initially. Are you able to outline your experience of delivering degree apprenticeships in Wales, compared to delivering the same in England?

Yes, of course. The Open University is delivering degree apprenticeships in all four nations of the UK. Our entry into Northern Ireland is very new. We've just taken on a very small cohort there of degree apprentices in nursing. The fundamental difference, really, is that in England and Scotland there is a broader selection of degree apprenticeships, a broader selection of products at level 6 and level 7, which means that the OU is delivering far more degree apprenticeship options in those two regions.

So, in Wales, we're currently just delivering the applied software engineering pathway, and that is partly down to the OU taking a risk-based approach to looking at Wales, and being a little unsure about the future of degree apprenticeships, not currently being prepared to sort of invest in other routes. The development of the programmes is very expensive and takes a lot of time.

In Scotland, the degree apprentices up there complete 480 credits against our 360, and complete an extra professional development module each year and there are, again, sort of fundamental differences between Wales and England in how the programme's funded. Obviously, England is funded through the levy system, and degree apprentices in England invariably don't complete their degree apprenticeship until they pass an end-point assessment, whereas in Wales and Scotland, when you get your degree, you get your apprenticeship in essence.

So, Members may probably dig in to some of the points, so I won't explore too much on some of the points you've raised. Can I just ask: what are your views, Rhys, in terms of how apprenticeship frameworks should be commissioned in future, and how can employers be—? How can demand be increased in the future through encouragement through employers?

Yes, I think there's a big collaboration piece that we could do in Wales, I think. Universities, FE colleges and work-based learning providers all actually share very similar goals in wanting to create a world-class system in Wales. And equally, with these organisations as well as the influence of regional skills partnerships, there is a lot there in terms of expertise in relation to employer engagement on a regional and national level. We should be careful not to reinvent the wheel as far as employer engagement is concerned.

I think we would support the formation of employer working groups to try and have some influence over the future of apprenticeships in Wales. It's an exercise that we're undertaking at the moment, creating an employer working group in Wales in order to try and feed into the regional skills partnerships, but a really important point for us is that we feel that there should be clear pathways for apprentices from level 2 to level 7: visual pathways, where they can see where they can enter the apprenticeship system and what opportunities they've got longer term to build their skills. And I think, again, the collaboration piece between each of the work-based learning providers in Wales at different levels is, again, very important. When you look at apprenticeships, it's important to bear in mind that industries change. It's not going to be unusual for perhaps somebody working in health and social care, once they get to a sort of more senior position, they're going to need to build skills in perhaps data analytics and there should be points at which apprentices can step out and almost take in modules from other apprenticeships as well. It's important to have that system, I think, to have that clear pathway to see what the long-term development opportunities are, but also where it's flexible enough for people to move in between to help their skills.

09:45

Gaf i ychwanegu at hwnna? So, dwi’n credu y pwynt roedd Rhys yn ei wneud ynghylch llwybrau cynnydd, o’r lefelau mwy isel i’r rhai mwy uchel, a phrentisiaethau gradd, mae hwnna’n bwysig iawn, nid yn unig o ran strwythur y prentisiaeth ei hun, ond hefyd o ran pethau fel ehangu mynediad, o ran myfyrwyr prentisiaethau sydd yn fenywod. Rŷn ni’n gweld gyda’n graddau arferol ni, rŷn ni wedi gwneud a gweld cynnydd enfawr o ran myfyrwyr sy’n dod o'r rhannau hynny o Gymru sydd yn ddifreintiedig iawn yn economaidd. Rŷn ni wedi gweld cynnydd mewn myfyrwyr anabl. Rŷn ni wedi gweld cynnydd mewn myfyrwragedd. Felly, os ŷch chi’n ehangu’r nifer o fframweithiau sydd ar gael, a hefyd yn gwneud yn siŵr bod pobl yn gallu gweld llwybr clir o lefel isel i lefel mwy uchel, a gweld sut mae’r dysgu yna yn mapio ar draws, mae hwnna hefyd yn mynd i helpu o ran cynyddu ac ehangu mynediad i brentisiaethau gradd.

May I add to that? I think the point that Rhys was making regarding progression pathways from the lower levels to the highest, and the degree apprenticeships, that's very important, not only in terms of the structure of the apprenticeship itself but also in terms of widening access, in terms of students who are apprentices and are female. We see with our usual degrees, we've seen great progress and a great increase in the numbers of students coming from areas of Wales that are very disadvantaged. We've seen an increase in disabled students and in female students. So, if you widen the number of frameworks that are available and also ensure that people can see a clear pathway from a low level to a higher level, and see how that teaching and learning is being mapped across those, that's going to assist in increasing the access to degree apprenticeships.

Thank you. And can I just say, Ben, if you do want to come in at all, just wave your hand or something; we can see you on a big screen. If you needed it, did you hear the translation of that last response?

Yes. The translation's coming through fine, thank you.

Thank you, Chair. You've begun to touch on this already, actually, because my questions relate to widening access.

Cerith, dŷch chi wedi dweud yn barod eich bod chi wedi gweld cynnydd o ran menywod, pobl anabl ac yn y blaen. Allwch chi ddweud mwy inni ynglŷn â sut dŷch chi wedi llwyddo gwneud hynny? Achos mae'n amlwg bod hwnna'n issue gyda providers eraill.

Cerith, you've said already that you've seen an increase in the number of women and disabled people and so forth. Can you tell us more about how you've succeeded in doing that? Because it's clear that this is an issue with other providers.

Ie. Wel, fel cyd-destun, o ran ein graddau arferol ni, mae rhyw ddau draean o’n myfyrwyr ni yn fenywod. Rŷn ni wedi dyblu’r nifer o fyfyrwyr sy’n dod o gefndiroedd ehangu mynediad, so, y ddau quintile isaf yn WIMD, y Welsh index of multiple deprivation. O ran prentisiaethau gradd wedyn, mae rhyw 27 y cant yn fenywod, sydd yn fwy isel, yn amlwg, ond ddim mor wael a gallai fe fod. Ond dwi’n credu efallai’r pwynt pwysig fanna yw, gyda’n graddau arferol ni, mae yna ystod eang ohonyn nhw, nid dim ond un fframwaith sydd, neu un radd; nid dim ond un pwnc, ond mae yna ystod eang. Mae hefyd ffyrdd o gael dysgu am ddim. So, mae gyda ni blatfformau fel OpenLearn lle mae gyda ni filoedd o gyrsiau am ddim sydd yn rhoi blas ar addysg a blas ar ddysgu i rywun. Dyw hwnna ddim o reidrwydd mewn lle gyda phrentisiaethau gradd a dysgu yn y gweithle. Dyna’r pwynt, felly, o ran os ŷch chi'n moyn ehangu’r nifer a chynyddu’r nifer o fenywod, nifer o bobl o gymunedau difreintiedig, pobl anabl ac yn y blaen, pobl groenddu, mae angen bod yna ystod eang fel bod pobl yn gallu dewis y pynciau hynny neu’r prentisiaethau gradd hynny sydd yn fwy perthnasol iddyn nhw.

Ond hefyd, mae yna bwynt o ran wrth i’r Llywodraeth edrych ar sut maen nhw’n mynd i ehangu prentisiaethau gradd, os o gwbl, a rŷn ni’n gobeithio y gwnân nhw, mae yna bwynt o ran dylech chi ddewis pynciau yn strategol a meysydd yn strategol, nid dim ond oherwydd, ond gyda llygad ar ddewis y meysydd hynny sydd ddim o reidrwydd â’r elfen gendered iddyn nhw. Dyw hwnna ddim yn rhywbeth dwi’n meddwl byddai pawb yn cytuno ag e, bod yna elfen gendered i rai meysydd, ond y profiad yn gyffredinol, yn amlwg, yw bod rhai menywod yn dewis peidio mynd i un maes neu’r llall, a rhai dynion hefyd yn dewis peidio mynd i un maes neu’r llall. Felly, rhaid cadw hwnna mewn cof wrth ddewis y meysydd hynny rŷch hi’n eu datblygu.

Ond y prif bwynt, fel gwnes i gyfeirio ato fe yn y cwestiwn arall, oedd bod angen hefyd bod pobl yn gallu gweld bod yna llwybr clir. Hynny yw, os ŷch chi’n dechrau ar lefel 2, mae angen eich bod chi’n gallu gweld, 'Reit, o fan hyn, dwi’n mynd i fynd i lefel 3, lefel 4, ac yn y blaen, ac yn gallu gweld y penllanw', sef prentisiaeth gradd. Ar hyn o bryd, rŷch chi'n mynd i mewn i brentisiaeth gradd heb fod ar y lefelau isaf yna neu heb wneud y dysgu blaenorol. Felly, rŷch chi'n ffaelu gweld lle rŷch chi'n mynd i fynd, ac mae hwnna'n offputting i eithaf lot o bobl.

Well, in the context of our usual degrees, about two thirds of our students are women. We've doubled the number of students who come from a widening access background, so the two lowest quintiles of the WIMD, the Welsh index of multiple deprivation. In terms of degree apprenticeships then, around 27 per cent are women, which is lower, clearly, but it's not as bad as it could be. But I do think the important point in that is that with our usual degrees, there are a broad range of them, and it's not only a matter of one framework or one degree; there's not only one subject, but a range of subjects. There are also ways of learning for free. So, we have platforms such as OpenLearn, where we have thousands of free courses that give you a taste of education and give people a taste of learning. That's not necessarily available with degree apprenticeships and workplace learning. That's the point, therefore, in terms of if you'd like to broaden the number and increase the number of women, people from disadvantaged backgrounds, disabled people, et cetera, and BME students, you need a broad range so that people can choose those subjects or the degree apprenticeships that are more relevant to them.

And there's also a point in that as the Government looks at how they're going to broaden degree apprenticeships, if at all, and we hope that they do, there's a point there in that you should choose subjects strategically and choose these areas strategically, not only because of that, but keeping an eye on those choices that don't necessarily include that gendered element. That's not something that everyone would agree with, in that there is a gendered element to some areas, but the experience in general, evidently, is that some women choose not to go into one area or another, and the same is true for men—they don't choose to go into certain areas. So, you need to bear that in mind as you choose those areas to develop.

But the main point, as I referred to in the previous question, is that we also need people to see that there's a clear pathway. So, if you're starting at level 2, you need to be able to see that, 'From here, I'm going to go to level 3, level 4, et cetera'. You need to be able to see that end goal, which is the degree apprenticeship. At the moment, you go into a degree apprenticeship not having been at those lower levels or not having done that previous learning. So, you can't see where you're going to go, and that's offputting for a number of people.

09:50

Mae hwnna'n helpful iawn. Pa awgrymiadau fyddech chi eisiau inni—beth ddylen ni ddweud wrth y Llywodraeth yn ein hadroddiad ni ynglŷn â sut dŷn ni'n gallu sicrhau ehangu mynediad? A byddwn i'n gofyn i Rob a Ben amoutu hynny.

That's very helpful. What suggestions would you want us to—what should we tell the Government in our report on how we can ensure that we widen access? I would ask Rob and Ben specifically about that.

What specific recommendations ought we to be making? There are some things that come out of what Cerith has said already, I think, in terms of the nature of frameworks and the issue of having a clear pathway through. But is there anything else you'd like us to recommend with regard to widening access?

I think some of the stuff that was covered earlier is pretty on the money from our perspective as well, in terms of—we understand why the roll-out initially was quite limited, that it is a pilot. The expansion to certain areas, in particular things like health and social care, would probably be helpful. I think it's important that we remember, in terms of widening access into these areas, that we aren't just creating jobs for the boys and jobs for the girls. We need to break down the stigmas around areas like science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But some of those areas—expanding into those areas will have a real, beneficial impact.

I also think that, in any further roll-out, and, again, bearing in mind that this is a pilot, there needs to be some sort of target or quota to make it more intersectional, because, at the moment, the demographics are not fantastic in this respect. So, anything that we can be doing that's deliberately targeting those groups is beneficial. I think Ben wants to come in.

I agree with what the OU is saying about looking to broaden the potential range of degree apprenticeships in Wales. I would, however, qualify that with the fact that organisations like the Women's Engineering Society have been—. I checked yesterday, the Women's Engineering Society was founded in 1919, and broadening the number of women engaged in STEM apprenticeships is a societal thing, and it's going to take us a very long time. So, I think, as a primary recommendation, looking at introducing degree apprenticeships in health and social care and in early years would, over the medium term, give access to degree apprenticeships, the wage benefits, the work benefits and the health benefits of achieving that level of qualification to a broader range of people in Wales.

Can I just jump in and perhaps—

Yes. I'm just conscious we've got a number of sections to get through, but by all means, just—

I'll be quick.

Particularly around things like promoting degree apprenticeships as well in schools, colleges and sixth forms, much more work needs to be done there so that people actually see degree apprenticeships as a potential option for them. I don't know if you want to expand on how that helps, but perhaps we're constrained by time.

Just a very quick question, and it's disaggregated data—if you've got people coming in to a brand new programme, which means you've got a brand new framework. You could also, quite quickly—and maybe you do—make a brand- new system for recording who's going where and when, and that's my question: are you doing that? Because that will tell its story. I know about the women in engineering degree in 1919, I think you said, and we can make excuses forever that we're not going to do anything about it, but we can collect data that informs us and then we can backfill that in terms of advertising. I'm sure a lot of you spend money on advertising, and we could advertise women in prominent positions so they do see it as something for them.

Rob, did I cut you off inadvertently earlier? Are you finished? Lovely. Thank you, if there's anything else—Cerith, Rhys, did you want to comment?

Yes. We retain data and collect data as part of the registration process, and that, of course, then does influence how we market the programme. I think, up until now, we've been very reliant on the industry, and our numbers are probably quite reflective of the digital sector as a whole in terms of the gender imbalance. One thing we would like to do is create more vacancies and work with employers to create more degree apprentice jobs. We've been slightly restricted by that, however, just purely down to the way in which contracting has worked with Welsh Government.

09:55

Thank you, Chair. When we're looking at whether the degree apprenticeship programmes are working, if they're what students want, then clearly the role of student voice is absolutely crucial within that. So. I'd like to ask Rob and Ben, to start off with: are the traditional mechanisms for hearing student voice able to work within degree apprenticeships, in your opinion?

Yes, I can. I think, to be honest, the NSOA are the experts on learner voice in degree apprenticeships, so I think for us the caveat would be around that post-16 sector, and recognising that we're asking for a level-up of all learner voice structures anyway within that new sector, which will cover apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships. So, I think it will look different. The way in which it operates will be different, and it's different in institutions now in the HE and FE sector, and even within those sectors now. So, I think, yes, there's a lot of learning to be done. I think Ben probably could expand more on that, in terms of how it would look in that respect.

Thank you. I was thinking about this. I think that degree apprentices should have an expectation of a traditional level of voice, but that traditional structures may not work. We have seen universities in England and Scotland really struggle to engage degree and graduate level apprentices, and I think there's an issue of lag with institutions not funding their student voice, apprentice voice organisations internally. So, there's been an expectation from universities that their student unions will go and deliver apprentice voice to a new and often off-site community of learners, but there hasn't been an increase in resource for student unions to be able to do that.

Apprentice voice structures are in the process of development across Europe. The Germans have just introduced a Bachelor's and Master's professional, and they are replicating the voice structures that they developed for their level 3 and 4 apprenticeships, and seeing how that works with their Bachelor professionals. There is some good practice in the UK. I think London South Bank and Staffordshire are really top of their game on that. But it is a new and developing field. I think the European Commission did a bunch of work on it, and I can provide that. But primarily, institutions need to fund and resource their student unions to be able to develop new practice, and I think the national society and NUS Wales are best-placed to support them to do that. We need to develop an expectation amongst apprentices that they are entitled to a voice in the same way that a full-time student at a university or a college is.

Okay, thank you. And just a quick question to you both, then: how do your organisations work together on this to ensure that the student voice is heard? Have you been working together?

Yes. So, very recently, this academic year, the NSOA have become members of the NUS family. I think there's probably still a lot more work to do, but that shows certainly a signal of intent, and that we're travelling in the right direction. But, yes, we do work quite closely together, and, for example, this year was the first year we had apprentices at our national conference in Wales represented to make sure that their voices were heard in that initial democratic decision-making process.

Okay, thank you. And then finally to the Open University—I'm just interested to know how you ensure student voice is heard and whether there's any good practice that can be shared here.

To date in Wales, in the last academic year, we only had a very small number of apprentices, and a lot of the feedback we had was quite anecdotal in many ways, and quite easy to deal with. But interestingly, referring to Ben's point, the OU is currently putting in an internal bid for funding in order to develop a scholarly approach to obtaining feedback for degree apprenticeships across all of the nations of the UK. That's likely to include a number of exercises where, obviously, as a remote deliverer of degree apprenticeships, we'll take on options to bring students together a lot more and to have a greater student voice through the delivery of the online modules and that sort of thing.

It's worth noting that, in England, the way in which the student voice system works there on apprenticeships is exactly the same as it would work for a level 2 or level 3 apprentice. Universities that are delivering degree apprenticeships are part of that mechanism, and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education in England then has a collective, public, published, set of data on student feedback and employer feedback, which might be worth noting.

10:00

There's a point also to be made around the level of support that the apprentice gets in the workplace from the institution. Obviously, they're working 80 per cent of the time and studying 20 per cent of the time. The unique selling point of an OU degree apprenticeship is that they get a practice tutor, which is much more like a training adviser in lower level apprenticeships, and they're available 24/7 in the workplace as well as to do with study. So, it's an additional level of support that you wouldn't necessarily get at a different institution as well, which obviously helps the student or the apprentice.  

Hoffwn i ofyn fy nghwestiwn cyntaf i'r Brifysgol Agored. A allwch ddweud wrthym a oedd gennych arbenigwyr diwydiant, nid yn unig darlithwyr prifysgol, ar y paneli cymeradwyo neu baneli dilysu ar gyfer eich cymwysterau gradd-brentisiaeth?

I'd like to ask the first question to the Open University. Can you tell us if you had external industry experts, not only university lecturers, on the approval panels or on the validation panels for your degree apprenticeship qualifications?

Yes, the OU has industrial advisory boards who have influence over the content of degree apprenticeships across the UK, and they meet with faculties twice a year. They tend more to have an influence as opposed to giving any authority for the release of programmes or validation as such, but also, on a module by module basis, we seek external support from employers and input into the module content.  

I was thinking specifically about the design of the programmes. So, when you're designing it and validating it, having been on a validation panel as a senior lecturer, you tend not regularly to have industry experts in the design of the programme. What I'm trying to get at is: are these programmes noticeably different in that they have those experts at the first stage, from the Open University's perspective? 

I think probably the advantage the OU has had is that we were an active member of the trailblazer group for apprenticeships in England for digital degree apprenticeships and therefore we have been able to take on a lot of employer input and feedback into the development of our degree apprenticeship programmes from there. Otherwise, as per your experience, really it's not common that employers would be at that validation stage. 

I'm not sure. That's probably an answer that the faculties would need to provide. My personal opinion is that I don't see why not, because it's such an important area for degree apprenticeships. Employers really need to have a focal point. 

Yes, and the next logical step from that is that, if you don't have employers at that stage, in what way are degree apprenticeships any different from part-time professional degrees?

We think they're significantly different in the way in which we develop the programmes. As Cerith has mentioned already, typically, a degree apprentice is almost like a full-time student in many ways, in that they're learning on the job and having off-the-job release for academic study as well. Certainly, students who are on our more traditional routes have a lot more flexibility as far as their programme is concerned. They have the opportunity to speed up or slow down at their own pace that degree apprentices don't, and they also have the opportunity to change programmes as well. Our degree apprenticeship programme is significantly more vocational than any other degree with the OU; a third of the programme is actually work-based learning-orientated and relies on the implementation of academic knowledge in the workplace, which is then accredited at degree level. 

10:05

But you could say the same—. I suppose what I'm getting at is you could the same about a Master's in Business Administration, which has the same principles behind it, delivered on a part-time basis with a professional qualification like Chartered Management Institute alongside it, with employees coming in to the university or studying remotely, or however the model works. The rest of the time they're in work. And I'm just trying to grasp—. I can't see specifically how it's different. We visited a group of employers and the students were in the university on a Monday, and working the rest of the week. That just seems to me to be very similar to a part-time degree programme. 

Yes. The OU model differs slightly from that. There is more flexibility in how the academic knowledge is delivered. It is a lot more work-based focused in that respect, which again is down to the make-up of the degree apprenticeship. Degree apprentices wouldn't physically be able to complete a degree without having that significant amount of work-based learning evidence that they can collate. 

So, you're saying there's a mode of study and there's a content that is significantly different to a part-time degree, in your view. 

Yes, absolutely and, again, coming back to what Cerith was saying, the level of support that a degree apprentice has is a lot larger than traditional study, and the practice tutor's role is really to be the go-between between employer, apprentice and the university in order to make sure that opportunities are maximised as far as implementing academic study into the workplace is concerned. The project activity that we do, similarly to apprenticeships at all levels, it's competency-orientated in that respect. 

I think from the point of view of the apprentice, there is a big difference between part-time degree study and a degree apprenticeship, and that's both how the apprentice interacts with the benefits system; that is quite different for apprentices. It's different in terms of their entitlements to a wage and, most importantly, for apprentices is: who's paying for it? That is a big motivator for the apprentices that we speak to, regardless of whether that's in Wales, England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. Not getting into debt means that quality vocations become available to people who are put off by debt. 

There's a question there that I probably shouldn't get into about why should degree apprentices not have debt whereas degree students do. It isn't an intrinsic issue around degree apprentices, is it? It's an issue that's tangential to the wider question, but it's an interesting point.

Can I just look at the structure of the course, and from a student's perspective, perhaps Rob as well? From the feedback you've had, do you feel that students get structured work-based learning in a significantly different way to other degrees? Do you think that happens? 

I think—I'm just scrolling down to try and find it in my notes—I think the feedback that we've had on it is that—. I've completely lost it, sorry—

Yes, Ben can go first.

I will caveat this with this is feedback primarily from level 6 apprentices in England and Scotland, and looking at the data from the apprenticeship pay survey in Wales, England and Scotland, employers haven't quite gotten the idea that an apprenticeship is a mode of study, it's a learning programme. And you were talking earlier about employers being part of the kind of design of programmes, and the levy that was introduced in England has been sort of copied over from the Austrians, but they didn't bring in the quality assurance mechanisms that the Austrians use in terms of engaging social partners, not just as employers, but also student unions, trade unions and education providers. I think that because we're in a situation where we are begging employers to take on apprentices, actually, the quality assurance of that on-the-job learning and work-based learning is really weak across all of the systems that are available to apprentices in the UK. We don't, for example, have the expectation that they have in the dual system to say 'Well, if you're taking on an apprentice, you need to have some knowledge of the apprenticeships that they are doing.' 

We also see that huge numbers of apprentices don't even receive their off-the-job training. I think the statistic for women in Wales was that something like 80 per cent of apprentices weren't receiving—at two to five—weren't receiving their off-the-job training. Now, if employers are at the stage where they disregard the educational element of an apprenticeship, to such an extent that they don't allow the off-the-job training, then the evidence isn't there, but I'm sceptical about the quality of the on-the-job and the work-based learning that is taking place.

10:10

The next set of questions will focus on Quality Assurance Agency's role, and possibly maybe Estyn's role and Her Majesty's inspectorate's role in the analysis of the quality. But what you're saying to us is that, when it comes to the delivery of apprenticeships, employers aren't taking them as seriously as universities are. 

I think we're at risk of that, yes. And whenever I've spoken to a room of apprentices, they all speak about off-the-job training and their work-based learning being one of their primary motivators, but they find it incredibly difficult to articulate what high-quality, on-the-job, work-based learning is. 

I think it needs work, and I think that looking at some of the experiences in Europe would be useful. 

I think with QAA, having done a bit of work with them myself, as a student, and then as a student officer, one of the benefits that they bring, which we'd be keen to see cemented in more, embedded, is the student engagement process. The QAA employs students to quality assess a range of courses and institutions, and I think that we're talking about having industry experts in the creation and validation of these programmes, which we don't have a view on—if they're part of the process, fine, why not—but students need to be in that room as well. They're the core stakeholder; without them, they don't exist. 

And just finally, what it seems to me, from all of your answers, is that while industry experts are asked, they are not embedded in the design. It seems to me that—. Whether they want to or not, maybe they don't understand what it's about, but they aren't embedded in the design of the programmes. Nobody's disagreeing with that. 

I think it's an important point, and as we move forward and look to enhance the quality of our apprenticeship offer in Wales, employers need to play a central role, absolutely. But also, there is a role for collaborative working amongst HE, FE, and work-based learning providers, to make sure employers also understand the different levels of learning, which I think has been a little bit of an issue in England, with the sort of employer-led, trailblazer groups. There's lots to learn from, I think, in terms of what's happened there. 

I'm conscious we're probably going to run over on this session a little bit, so perhaps all panel members—don't feel you all have to answer the questions put to you by Oscar Asghar.

10:15

Yes. We were very lucky in many ways not to be the first nation in terms of delivery of degree apprenticeships. The OU started delivery of degree apprenticeships in England in 2016, and in Scotland in 2017. And it means that, when the degree apprenticeship offer arrived in Wales, we think we've got a really good understanding of what worked for apprentices and what didn't work for apprentices. And to pick up on some of the points Ben made, we've been able to invest in suitable resource, to make sure that we are able to closely monitor important issues like off-the-job training, to make sure that we are providing a very good standard of student support for apprentices who work full-time, have to do a degree as well. And it's a very tall order—it doesn't leave a huge amount of room for manoeuvre. And, actually, one of the key points that we learn in terms of the quality, and also the retention of apprentices on degree apprenticeships programmes, is the level of work we do at the advice and guidance and induction stage. It's an area that the OU invests a lot in—a fundamentally big part of my role, a big part of the business relationship manager role, and a big part of the role of the practice tutor, the staff tutors who monitor quality assurance, as well as, then, the tutors who deliver the programme.

Thank you very much. And I now have a direct question to you, Ben. What is being fed back by degree apprentices regarding their experiences, and are there any positive or negative themes emerging from that?

I'm conscious, Ben, you may have just answered that previously, in part. But is there anything you want to add to what you said previously, or do the other panelists want to come in? Ben.

In terms of positive experience, the feedback that we're getting from degree apprenticeships-level apprentices in England and Scotland is that they are seeing increased opportunities for progression in the workplace. In terms offeedback about things that they are worried about and concerned about, mental health provision and mental health support are really high on the agenda—really high on the agenda of apprentices across Europe—and issues relating to the cost of living, particularly around how their experience differs from full-time students.

Thank you very much. And finally, is there any further development in the quality assurance machinery around degree apprenticeships in any way? If so, how?

Was that to me?

You may have answered that question previously as well, but for those who didn't answer last time, perhaps you want to come in on that.

I think for us, again, anything to do with the enhancement of quality assurance needs to be done in partnership with students at every level. And I think that's our main caveat around that.

Just on the previous question around feedback, one of the main things I think we'd probably like you to understand from our view is that degree apprenticeships are an excellent addition to the skills landscape in Wales. Yes, it's a pilot, yes, it's a new thing, and, yes, there are perhaps challenges to be ironed out, but it's an excellent addition. Employers, degree apprentices and providers all just need surety from Government that the pilot will then turn into a more permanent arrangement, so that we can also prepare, in a strategic way, our own delivery, and employers can make strategic business decisions about what they do with degree apprentices and with providers, and get the funding in place on a more permanent basis.

It leads me nicely on to funding for students, so I'm only going to ask the student union here for answers. We know that there's £27,000 funding, and we also know that, usually, that means that there might be money for students to access services beyond just the teaching. So, have you had any feedback to say that that funding is allowing students to access services beyond just the teaching?

10:20

Well, I mean, the main thing for us is that these are students who are often embedded in institutions that are delivering equivalents, the more traditional-type degree courses qualifications. By our logic, there should be parity. The £27,000 that you're paying seems appropriate; it seems to obviously be tethered against tuition fees. So, there should be parity in what students can access in terms of support. I think there are issues there, bearing in mind that most campuses are still tethered around that nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday lifestyle, and that's not necessarily always appropriate for degree apprentices—and actually, a lot of students, anyway, that aren't degree apprentices. So, yes, I think the feedback is mixed, but I think that's a picture that is reflective of the wider sector anyway.

I think making sure that—. I would agree with Rob on making sure that apprentices have access to the support services; it's not universally true. I think that apprentices who are based in cities get a better deal from their institutions. The cities tend to have—the larger cities like London and Birmingham—tend to have better feedback from their degree apprentices.

Okay. So, if you wanted to move forward and out of the pilot, and on this particular issue I'm talking about now—access to services—what, if anything, do you think could be done to make that sustainable going forward?

I think if we're going to be moving forward and we're looking at widening access, in particular, as an area of enhancement, when you widen access, you inherently then need to support those students. So, if we're looking at increasing the number of BME students, women, those different demographics and their intersection of— they require that extra level of support. So, I think that anything in terms of expanding the programme going forwards needs to make sure that those needs are met and matched and that, actually, we're capable of supporting those different bodies of students. In terms of—. Again, it's that parity piece, I think, really. It's making sure that they're not disadvantaged in any way, no matter who they are, where they come from, what they study and how they're studying.

Well, can I thank all the panel members? If there's anything pressing, please do say so now. But if you think everything's been drawn out through questions, then I'm grateful for that. Are you okay there, Ben? Anything to add?

Yes. Thank you.

Lovely. Thank you. In that case, thank you for your time this morning. We really appreciate it. You will be sent a record of the proceedings, and please review that. If you feel you want to add to what you said or add to anything that's said during future sessions to help our piece of work, then we'd be very grateful for that. But diolch yn fawr. Thank you very much.

Thank you very much.

Diolch yn fawr.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:23 a 10:35.

The meeting adjourned between 10:23 and 10:35.

10:35
4. Gradd-brentisiaethau: Cyflogwyr
4. Degree Apprenticeships: Employers

Bore da. I'd like to welcome Members back. We move to item 4, with regard to our degree apprenticeships' piece of work. Can I ask? Milly, can you hear us okay? 

Yes, absolutely. Thank you.  

Lovely, thank you. I'd like to welcome you both as well. Can I ask you both to introduce yourselves first? I'll come to you, Gavin. 

Gavin Jones, head of apprenticeship programmes, Airbus, commercial aircraft. 

Hi, I'm Milly Blenkin. I'm a talent programme manager at GoCompare.

Okay. Well, thank you, both, for being with us. We really appreciate your time, we appreciate you're both busy. Can I ask an opening question? Can you tell us perhaps how well degree apprenticeships are rolled out in both your organisations? And what could have been done differently perhaps? I'll perhaps come to you first, Gavin. 

So, how have they been rolled out in our organisation? I would say, 'successfully'. We've been running degree programmes for a number of years now. We've actually been running a hybrid programme for around about six years, where we've run a higher apprenticeship and then bolted a degree programme on, which we developed with Swansea. So, we were kind of the pilot of the pilot in certain ways, and it was driven by our resourcing needs and the need to attract talent into the business.

I'm also responsible for the English side. So I have—. We're running degree programmes in the other site down in Bristol, at Filton in Bristol. So, we've got a fairly detailed understanding of the programmes now. In general, they're really successful. The business really appreciates them and they're producing some really, really talented individuals. 

And, in terms of anything that could have been done differently at all?

If you look back to the evidence that I provided, I think there are one or two aspects of the development of the actual framework that could have benefited from some more technical input. But, what I would say, in general, it was managed very quickly in a very agile fashion and delivered a good result, so far. But I think there were one or two elements, and it comes back to maybe one or two questions you might ask me later around the evidence provided on how the actual content of the programmes is created. 

You're right: that's an area that somebody else is going to cover. So, we'll come on to that. And, Milly, the same question to you, really, in terms of how the roll-out has been in your organisation, your business, and anything that could have been done differently? 

Really well. I know I haven't submitted any written evidence, so I'll give you a bit of an overview. We have five degree apprentices with Swansea University and three with the Open University, all studying applied software engineering. They're relatively new. So, the Swansea intake started in September and our Open University intake started last month. However, we also have five degree apprentices with Aston University, who started in 2018.

With regard to degree apprenticeships as a whole, at GoCompare, we've taken a lot of learnings internally, as we've never done any kind of apprenticeship offering before, mainly around recruitment and how that's quite different with regard to degree apprenticeships and the level of support that the learners require as well, as well as scoping out projects for them to work on and just decide from the business as usual while their theory and technical knowledge catches up. 

And then, on the improvement side, I'm sure, again, as Gavin said, I might come to this later, but the timelines around sign-off of funding needing to run more cohesively with that of the academic year. So, finding out you've got five placements was great news last summer, but when you've got 200 candidates for five spaces and you can't get into schools and sixth forms and colleges to advertise the benefits of degree apprenticeships, because they've all broken up for summer, that was really chaotic and a massive glitch for us, I think, this year, and something that could hopefully be changed in the future. 

That's really interesting to know. And, Milly, there's no public commitment in terms of degree apprenticeships funding beyond July 2021. Is that impacting on your plans? 

I think the way that we work, because we're quite an agile company—there's only 250 of us at GoCompare—our plans can be relatively fluid. However, what I'd like to see, ultimately, off the back of this, is a commitment to degree apprenticeships, because they would be a massive part of our early-careers planning and development across, not just tech—obviously, we're a software engineering house—but hopefully, other disciplines as well. 

10:40

And the same question to you, Gavin, in terms of being able to recruit, knowing that there's no public commitment to funding beyond July next year.

It would be a concern for us, without a shadow of a doubt. The volumes that we need to recruit in the coming years to support, not only our age demography, but also the orders that we have in the pipeline, categorically we need this pipeline as an alternative method of recruiting the right resources.

There are three different streams that we're running at the minute: the two that are fully funded, which would be the engineering and the DTS—the digital and technology solutions—but we also have a third hybrid, which is a business apprenticeship, which is again a higher with a bolt-on, and again developed because we recognise that we need that stream. It's not available at the minute, so we're doing a halfway house with it. So, yes, it's needed, and it does concern us that the funding will stop after the pilot period.  

And both of you are part of businesses that run across the country, so, in terms of information being made available in other parts of the country and how degree apprenticeships differ in Wales, do you think there's enough information for people in other parts of the country in terms of how the Welsh apprenticeship model works?

I think more could be done—

Are we talking from an actual candidate's perspective, from the student's perspective?

I'm kind of talking about—. On information that's available in terms of the degree apprenticeships that you run, in terms of what's available in Wales, and how that, perhaps, correlates to some of your colleagues across the border in England.

It's difficult for me to answer because of the position that Airbus is in. So, we're in a unique position where there's a lot of dialogue that we have with the Welsh Government but also working with the trailblazer groups and then the IfAaTE—the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education in England. So, we're embroiled in it, particularly myself and my team.

I think there is a lot that needs to be done if we look down the pipeline into science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and raising awareness across age groups of the apprenticeships and it being a viable alternative education pathway, no matter what the level is. So, from that perspective, I would say there's categorically a gap.

But from the information and the way that we work with Welsh Government, if we're talking parochially, the support that we get is very good. I can only say what I see; I can't really comment on, maybe, what the small and medium-sized enterprises that we don't connect with see.

In truth, I find it wholly confusing. The limited understanding I do have has ultimately come from the Open University, which is one of our academic partners that, obviously, span nationally. I'm kind of the point of reference; I manage our GoFurther Academy, which apprenticeships sit under, and it's part of my role. As I said, we've never ventured into this phase before. We're only doing so because of the nature of degree apprenticeships and how that will absolutely play into our 'grow our own' mentality with regard to software engineers.

Ultimately, I don't think there's enough information, not from an employer's side, to fully understand the apprenticeship levy. Obviously, we make one payment, and what that implication is with regard to our English colleagues and where we can use it there and why that, ultimately, doesn’t translate in Wales. Obviously, I understand that it's Welsh Government funding that's allowing us to do this. But the nature of what—. You're going to, hopefully, talk about the sustainable funding model and how we can get that to work. But, no, I don't think there's enough awareness.

And I don't honestly think there's enough celebration for students as well. We were very lucky to get 200 applicants through, but I think if there was a real celebration of what degree apprenticeships offer to students who may have been put off going to university, we need to sit down and have those one-to-one conversations and explain what's on offer. A spark lights in most people—it's incredible. But, with regard to the intricacies, it's very confusing territory for me.

Thank you very much, Chair. My question is regarding how a new degree apprenticeship framework can be improved in Wales. Do you have any views on the development of a new degree apprenticeship framework in Wales? Should they be approached, and what should be the approach in future?

10:45

I'll come to Gavin—. Sorry, I'll come to Gavin first, because you started on that, initially.

Yes. So, I think the expansion of the degree apprenticeships is, for me, an essential part of developing the education pathways within the country. You've got to consider where England is at the minute. You've got to consider the options that are on the table in England, where there is a plethora of degree apprenticeships that are available. That, if you consider particularly the market that we operate in—the engineering sector that we operate in, which is already incredibly competitive—makes it doubly difficult if I haven't got products in the portfolio, or programmes in our portfolio, that are going to attract the talent from the whole of the nation to come and work with us in Wales.

So, from that perspective, we absolutely need these programmes. They need to be seen as a viable alternative. But what I would also say is that, if I put my hat on thinking about the wider aspects of Wales and its education pathways, if you consider the work that the regional skills partnerships do and the data they collect, and what should be made available, there should be a logical progression that says that the degree paths that are made available should be based on what that data is driving and what the data is indicating of the sectorial needs in the different parts of Wales, rather than it going, for me, where England is, where it's just open season and anyone can create a trailblazer, anyone can create a degree programme, and then it goes on, it's released, thinking more tactically and strategically about what we open up and what we make available so that it supports the needs of the given region.

But, without a shadow of a doubt, regardless of what the sector is, we need a viable, competitive set of degree frameworks that would counteract or—attract, not counteract; that would attract the talent to come to the organisations that are based in Wales. 

Milly, did you want to come in? I could see you nodding.

Sorry, yes, just to echo that point, really, they have to be employer and industry led, in my opinion. I'd really welcome a consortium, actually, of employers looking at the different frameworks on offer, because I think there's so much benefit added then. Ultimately, they just need to reflect the skills gap in order to make it beneficial for the Welsh economy, for employers and ultimately for the career progression of the learners involved. It's a lovely thing to be able to offer individuals, but, unless the gap in the market is there, ultimately there's no point.

I'd just echo that I sit on an employers' board for financial services at Cardiff and Vale College. The fintech scene in south Wales is growing constantly—Monzo and Starling Bank joining us now as well. It's a meet-up to talk about financial services. The skills gap in tech, in cyber and in data comes up every single month without fail. So, I think, yes, as long as it's industry led, that's the approach that should be taken.

Thank you very much. Bearing in mind that your degree apprentices are enrolled on specific degrees, are you happy with the contents of these degrees? Is there a way for you or students to raise issues? 

Am I happy with the content of the degree programme as it stands today? So, the details of the digital technology solutions we only launched this September. Initially—, And that's with a new partnership with Bangor and Llandrillo Menai. Really pleased with the collaboration at the minute—we're six months in, so at the minute the content looks good; the delivery looks really professional and good. With regard to the engineering side, we're working with Swansea University and Coleg Cambria. As I said before, we have been running a hybrid programme for a number of years. We have a very established relationship.

What I would say is that, in the transfer from the older programme we were running to the one that we launched this year, there were some aspects, as I alluded to before, that we felt weren't taken into account when they did the development of the programme. But, as we speak right now, there's a meeting that's going on with my team back at Broughton looking at how do we overcome that and just pick up those small gaps.

So, some small gaps, but nothing that is not being—. The Welsh Government have been very responsive. They're coming back and looking at how we deal with it in an iterative way.

Oscar, do you mind if Hefin comes in? I'll come back to you. Is that okay? Hefin.

10:50

Just with regard to that design stage of the degree, how heavily are you both involved with that design and with the development of a programme document and module specifications and things like that? Do you get into that detail? 'No', says Milly.

Okay. So, yes, there were consultations. I think, again, because of the work that we do and the relationship we have with the Government, there was a natural requirement to come and talk to us in particular around the engineering and manufacturing sector. So, yes, we were consulted. We had meetings, actually, where the lead developer came to speak to us and then there were subsequent committee meetings that we attended both in north and south Wales to make sure that was—

They weren't in the universities. They were a committee where they were brought—universities, FE institutes and other—

But that's talking about the development of the framework.

But what about the development of the programmes? The programmes, the degree programmes, are delivered by Bangor—I think you mentioned Bangor University.

So, the degree programme that's developed by Bangor, did you have any specific influence in how that degree programme was developed?

The only influence we had was through the framework development and the consultations, and, again, obviously, Swansea are fully aware of where we are already because they've been working with us for five or six years. So, I would say we're in a very fortunate position,  that we're allowed to say, 'Okay, these are the requirements that we have. This is what we've developed over the last five years. What is it that's being proposed and where's the gap?' So—

But you didn't have any staff involved in validation panels or anything like that?

No. That's for the universities to do and that was what—

Is it for universities to do or do you think there should an industry influence in that?

I think we—. I would—. Using Airbus terminology, we'd look at multifunctional teams, where you do need the employer involved, you do need education specialists involved, which would include the universities and it would include the FE institutes. Because I would say that what we do miss is the academic specialisms, because, at the end of the day, that's not my role.

I think, from a degree programmes point of perspective, when a degree is delivered, you have the person who's going to teach the degree who will be involved generally in the validation process. So, the person who's delivering at a university level will actually design the programme as well—co-design the programme with others. Given that you are, effectively, also delivering the programme as the employer, shouldn't you be involved at that point or do you think that you don't want to be involved, or is that a cultural feeling?

No, I think we—. There's a level of involvement that we naturally have, and that's then—. I'll go back to the point I made earlier about the collaboration that I have, particularly with the university. So, the representative from Swansea University works really closely with us as they go through their design process and brings back the modular content to us and says, 'Okay, this is what we're proposing'. Now, we rely on them as a specialist to make sure that it's correct. I can't detail to them what an engineering degree's content should look like. We can talk about the subject matters that we need, but how that's then delivered from an academic perspective—we rely on that collaboration to deliver it.

Okay. Milly, do you agree with that and did you have the same level of involvement? Sorry, Chair. 

I'll tell you what, shall I—? I just don't want it to stray into some of Oscar's questions. If I come to your question, Oscar, next, and then if perhaps Milly could address some of Hefin's point, if that's all right. 

So, the one of our involvement?

No. We inherit these—. Well, we have inherited the applied software engineering programmes from both Swansea and the OU. However, there are extensive conversations about the nature of every single year of the programme that is liaised with from our head of engineering right across the business, and we felt more than comfortable that that's exactly the nature of the programme that we need. Ultimately, it's specialist in software engineering, so you'd hope that it would be fit for purpose, and we chose those academic providers because we believe in their programmes, although I would echo my point that it would be great to have some kind of employer consortium with the other software houses, tech businesses, that also have students in the degree apprenticeship programmes, to be able to give some taste of actually what is industry standard and to play into that, because I just think that that would be beneficial for the academic partner as well. 

Thank you very much. My direct question to Milly now: we know that there are real problems about getting consistent access to specialist occupational knowledge when writing new apprenticeship frameworks. Do you have ideas about how this can be addressed or is it wholly confusing? 

10:55

So, my opinion on this: so we've got Aston University that are studying the digital technologies degree. However, I think the route that GoCompare will be going down is to look specifically at software engineering, data science, cyber security, as opposed to more kind of broad degrees.

With regard to how you get the subject matter into those programmes, it has to be from industry. We're constantly learning in all of these fields, so we wouldn't expect academia to go it alone. I'd like to see a true collaboration across the board, but I can imagine it is a bit of a minefield.

I think that, ultimately, though, it stems back to the work that we're doing, and industry needs to have almost a duty of care in raising STEM awareness, and students that may have gone to study maths or physics actually look at, or have some knowledge of data or cyber—. I don't know if that answers your question.

Okay. Is there anything you wanted to add, Gavin, or are you happy for us to move on?

To which—? The question about—?

Well, Oscar Asghar was asking a question of Milly. Did you want to comment on that?

Yes. So, I think, just in terms of the development, I can understand the question about it being wholly confusing. It does feel like that. But what I would say is that I think we're at a junction where we've got a real opportunity in Wales to (a) learn from what's happening in England, and recognising—

We know in England that there's the trailblazer stuff—

[Inaudible.]—skill base. So, which one? We must have the best of both.

Well, we've got an opportunity to do that. I'd say what they've actually done is too far in England. It's too flexible. It's too agile. And I know you've heard me talk on this subject recently. So, we've got an opportunity to learn from that and find that balance between the very bureaucratic ways that we used to work with sector skills councils, which needed to change, but I think there's a limit to how far it should have gone, and what we're now doing is, particularly in these key skill areas that the economy needs, we've reduced the ability to have the knowledge and skill sets and experience that we need to make sure that, as we evolve each of these frameworks as we go forward, we've got the knowledge and we're retaining the knowledge. What we're doing at the minute is we're relying on one or two individuals to come in as specialists, write the programme, release the programme, and then they go back to what they're doing, and we're not retaining that knowledge. As I said before, we're not education specialists: we rely on the collaboration to deliver the right level of education to us.

So, there is an opportunity—there's a gap there, but I would say there's an opportunity to close the gap.

Thank you. We're short of time, so perhaps I'll ask other Members to address questions to either one panel member or the other. Helen Mary Jones.

Yes, thank you. I want to ask some questions about widening access to degree apprenticeships. We've had evidence that the demographic of people taking them up is quite narrow the moment. So, perhaps if I can start by asking Gavin: how have you approached the recruitment into your degree apprenticeships, and have you had any discussions with the universities on widening access from underrepresented groups?

So, yes, it's a challenge; I'll be straight with you. Particularly in the engineering sector, we have a very, very competitive environment, where you're looking at 56,000 to 70,000 new positions becoming available on the market every year. We've got an age demography that means people are retiring, and we've also got an issue where, if you go back into the education system, STEM is not prevalent in a consistent fashion across all schools, so that no matter what—. If you're considering diversity, no matter what area you're looking at, whether it be gender specific, or whether it be from an economic perspective, the fact that we're being inconsistent across the whole of the UK does create some gaps, so when we come to recruit, when we come to, if you like, switch the taps on, and bring the individuals in to us, it is massively challenging, and we are finding that we're having to put an incredible amount of effort, an incredible amount of finance and funding into raising awareness, even in our own—. If you consider the bubbles that sit around the two sites that we have here in north Wales and across the border and in Bristol—so, even in those areas, we still have to work very, very hard to get a consistent message out into the education and into the schools.

And have your universities talked to you about this at all? Is  widening access an issue for them that they raise with you in terms of who you're recruiting?

11:00

I would say that we work with the universities from a perspective of—. With the degree programmes, we recognise that they are sometimes at an advantage with the way that the system works with UCAS, and how they can draw people to them, where we are not. So, we're working with them from that perspective, but in terms of how we physically recruit, well that's down to the business; that's down to us to advertise—as I said before—a product, if you like, for the student to come and be attracted to and apply to us versus applying through the UCAS system to go into the university. So, we're almost a competitor, if you like, in certain perspectives. 

That's interesting. I think, Chair, if I may, I'd like to put this question to Milly. I think a couple of the others may be perhaps not for these witnesses. So, what's your view about that, Milly? What's your kind of demographic of your degree apprentices, and have you had discussions with the university providers that you're working with about broadening the range of people applying and taking part? 

As I alluded to in my response to the first question, earlier commitment of funding is definitely going to help introduce fairer access, due to employers being able to raise more awareness through different mediums, reaching a wider array of learners. But with regard to under-represented groups, firstly, that's not a conversation I've had with any of our providers, but also, we'd actively recruit any under-represented groups. So, GoCompare believe in the 'right person for the right job' and we also redact all of our curricula vitae, removing any unconscious bias. However, if the timings were changed with regard to the sign-off of funding, our current degree apprentices, of which we have 12, five of which are female, they are all trained as STEM ambassadors and are able to join me and go out to careers fairs and workshops to help promote girls in STEM and tech careers, for example. 

That's really helpful. And then just briefly to both of you, are there things that you think that we should, as a committee, recommend to Welsh Government about what should be done to help with the different bits of work that you're doing to widen access and to get a broader range? Are there some specific things that you think they should be doing? 

Yes. [Laughter.]

I'll make the committee aware of a proposal that north Wales regional skills partnership has been developing over the last few months—or six months. And I think it's due to actually be tabled next week, or the week after, at the next ambitions board, which is seeking to bring together a co-ordinated approach to STEM that would potentially, in the longer term, overcome the questions that you're raising around the diversity and inclusion, because of the way that it would approach unlocking the barriers that are stopping children accessing STEM-related activities. So, whether it would be the STEM ambassadors, whether it would be—whatever wonderful activities we've got, they tend to be uncoordinated. Whilst as good as they are, it's almost like chucking gravel into a huge lake rather than putting a big boulder in there and creating a wave; lots of good activity but it's not co-ordinated. So, I want to make you aware of that proposal. But, I think, and from what I've viewed of what the regional skills partnership has put together is very strong; it's based on some good background and benchmarking and it's certainly supported by Airbus as a potential way of resolving the issue—nationwide not just regionally. 

That's really helpful. And, Milly, you've already mentioned your STEM ambassadors and that if you knew earlier how many apprenticeships you've got to offer, you could make better use of those. Is there anything else that—? So one of the recommendations we might make is that you can be told earlier what you've got available. Is there anything else that you think the Welsh Government ought to be doing to promote diversity?

Yes, educating teachers as well. The amount of careers fairs I'm at and they've never heard of degree apprenticeships; they don't understand the benefits. I think half the time they think I'm lying when I say that there's a fully funded degree as part of it. And I also think if you look at the way that teachers are targeted on students going straight to university, are they going to—if they do understand it—necessarily encourage their students down the degree apprenticeship route? As they're ultimately neither university, not going through UCAS and applying to us as a direct employer. So, I think that will help fairer access as well. 

And that is exactly the issue. Exactly the issue. 

Thank you, Chair. All my questions are about how degree apprenticeships might sit alongside other types of apprenticeships in your organisations, so I don't know if they're going to applicable to both of you. Gavin, would that be applicable to Airbus?

11:05

No. We only have degree apprentices.

Okay, I'll just direct my questions to you, then, Gavin, and about Airbus. So, can you tell us about your experiences, then, of having to work through the two different systems—with universities and then with the work-based learning provider contract?

Okay. Again, we're very lucky to have an established relationship and partnership with Coleg Cambria and with Swansea, and then with Bangor and Llandrillo Menai, whereby for many years they've guided us through the work-based learning element on, 'These are the requirements we have as a business', 'Okay, this is what's available.' They are the education specialists from a further education perspective. They've helped us over the years to run many different types, develop different types of programme that we need as our business has evolved, as we've grown, and as the products have changed and therefore the technology has changed, they've been able to adapt with us. And that is inclusive of bringing Swansea on board five or six years ago—and previous to that was Glyndŵr—and always been there to advise us on, 'Okay, so these are your needs, this is what we think, which pathway would work, which qualification we think would be best suited for that'—whether it be a Pearson's qualification, whether it be a City and Guilds qualification—'and these are the reasons why', rather than—. And I can imagine it is incredibly confusing for you if you don't have that guidance, particularly for the likes of SMEs that are maybe not in that position, whereby they're just simply going to a college and picking a package up off the shelf.

So, from our perspective, we've got a multitude of levels. We're running level 3 programmes, higher programmes—so, level 4 to 5 programmes—and we're running the level 6 programmes, and that's in both England and Wales. But in Wales, particularly, in my experience is a positive, and I would say based on the capability of that organisation that we're working with, which is not necessarily always the case, as I understand it, across the whole of Wales.

Thank you. So, for us as a committee, when we're looking at the recommendations that we want to get out of this piece of work, what do you think we should be saying about how we can ensure that higher and degree apprenticeships work well together and do not confuse or create damaging competition?

I think we've got to look at—and that's the royal 'we', I guess—we've got to look at the way that the system's set up today. We have two specific areas: we've got HEFCW and we've got the work-based learning, lifelong learning apprenticeships areas. I'm aware of the basics of what was post-compulsory education and training, it's now the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research, I think, that's coming in, which is going to hopefully change that and bring the two together. But I think, fundamentally, what we've got to look at is that as a way of working. It's two separate areas and it is quite difficult to work across the two. So, there's definitely a need to, I would say, accelerate that activity and really look at how you can get the benefits of that collaboration. Because for me, there's a specialism that the FE institutes have, which takes them all the way from the vocational aspects, all the way through to the higher element, and there are the specialisms that the universities have, which is to look at the more detailed academic aspects. And we need to play to both of those strengths and bring those strengths together. That's one of the real beauties, I think, of the degree programme. If you get that collaboration right, if you've got the right partners who are willing to work with you as a business—. If I look at the programme and if I look at the feedback we're getting from the apprentices, it's tough, but they get a lot out of it and it's producing some really, really talented individuals that are going into the business.

If you then consider the maybe upskilling needs that we have in the longer term, where we need to bring people up from, let's say they started in the manufacturing apprenticeships at a level 3, what are the stepping stones that we've got to go level 3, level 4, level 5, level 6? Now you're crossing pathways, now you're starting to get into the, 'Well, I'm starting over here in a degree programme but I'm starting off here.' Now, yes, you can, but, 'What happens if I want to come the other way, if I start on this programme and I've not been as successful? I can't come back onto that because I've already started on here.' So, there needs to be some thought about how we allow that progressive development of individuals, because everyone develops at a different rate and not everybody is going to be able to cope with a degree apprenticeship at 18 years old, 19 years old, and we would have to do a lot of pastoral care to help people through that because we don't want them to fail, for obvious reasons. But by the same hand, as I said, everyone develops at a different rate. So, we need those options for moving people, if you like, sideways, maybe, into a more vocational, and coming back later on to finish. And that's not there at the minute, because it's degree apprenticeships here and then the existing frameworks that sit off to the right-hand side.

11:10

Great. And to an extent, you've addressed my final question, but I'll just ask it anyway to see if we can draw it together. I'm wondering whether you've got in Airbus a potential pipeline of apprenticeships that you feel could move those apprentices on then to the degree apprenticeship, ideally. If those frameworks that you're talking about existed, and if you have got that sort of cohort in mind, would they be in certain fields?

The answer is: yes, we have got cohorts in mind and, yes, we're seeing a development of individuals. As I said before, the guys and girls that have finished the level 3 manufacturing programme, the craft programme, who are then developing the business as the retirement levels increase and as those opportunities come up, they want to progress on from their roles and do then need the education levels if they're going to move into engineering and if they're going to move into more of the digital aspects. As we see the industry change, as we move from the classic engineering position that we're in today—it's called industry 4.0; you might have heard of it—I don't know if you've heard it mentioned, but that is a transition where you're going to see a lot of the digital technologies and a lot of the engineering technologies emerging. That's happening now, and what we do need is those education pathways that are available to take the people, the employees, from levels 3, 4, 5, 6, but doing it in a subject way, not in a silo-ed way, so where you're starting to see combinations. So, digital, yes; engineering, yes; business, yes; and we need to be able to allow the individuals to grow and develop in the organisation and not be stymied by, 'Well, this is the only framework we've got available.'

I'd like to move on to some of the criticisms that Estyn have had of degree level apprenticeships, and at the moment they don't have much regulatory power, if any at all, over degree-level apprenticeships. One of the things they said was that there's a lack of work-based activity included in some of the degree apprenticeships, meaning employers need to sometimes work with other training providers to make sure apprentices gain the skills they need. Do you recognise that criticism, or do you think it's unfair? 

Is that to me?

I'll start with Gavin, seeing as you started, and then I'll come to Milly afterwards. It's probably easier with the technology as well to do it that way.

From our perspective, you can't get through the degree programme without the work-based element. The whole programme is a balance between us understanding what the academic content is and then making sure that the work-based content matches it. So, I can't comment about what Estyn may see. They have a broad range and look across the whole of the country, but what I can say from the way that we run our programmes is it's intrinsic in the design of the programme—we simply would not get the apprentices through the degree, and through the work-based element, if they weren't spending the amount of time that they do in the business today.

Yes, I agree with that completely. As far as we're concerned, as I said, we're early into our pilots, but they're completely fit for purpose.

Okay. And with that in mind, then, Milly, how do you evidence the hours that are done?

So, all of our degree apprentices are the ones that have pipelined into the business, that we've attracted, are hired as trainee software engineers. So, when they're not on study leave or at their one day of university a week, they are hired as trainee software engineers. So they are in work full-time and we use our HR system to evidence this.

So there's a log kept of study hours completed as part of the degree.

Yes. They all have one day at uni a week, and then study leave depending on the ramp up to exams or not, and that's up to their line manager to decide.

Okay. And the same for Airbus? Is it the same situation?

Absolutely. They're an employee of the organisation. They're on a training contract, but they're an employee of the organisation, so they start at 07:45 in the morning, they will work on specific placement rotations, they will go to college, university one to one-and-a-half days a week, depending on where they are in the programme. The day changes as the programme changes throughout the year. Normally, we know exactly where they are and what they're doing—normally. [Laughter.]

With regard to that, do you think that there is then a sufficient focus on work-based learning in the qualifications? It sounds like you do. You don't have any concerns that there's not enough focus on work-based learning?

If I could just comment, maybe, on a wider thing, I would say, for us, we're in, again, a unique position and I'm very conscious of that, but I think if you consider the work-based learning that may happen in some of the smaller organisations that are under more resourcing pressures, I would guess that's what Estyn's picking up on. It's just an opinion, but I think if you're in a small organisation, you have an apprentice, you have a business priority that comes in, sometimes that's going to happen where they've got scant resources and they're going to say, 'I'm sorry, you can't go to university this week, I need you to stay on the job.' Now, that's just an opinion, I don't know whether—

11:15

Well, let's ask Milly in a smaller organisation: does it ever happen at GoCompare?

No. Absolutely as part of their contract they must go to university and they must take their study leave. I will say that resource is a key element at play here and that's, as I alluded to at the beginning, one of our biggest learnings: that you can't plonk an apprentice down at their desk and just assume that their university work is enough for them to hit the ground running, especially when our business is a website and they can't just get started straight away on working on the website because of the risk involved there. So we make sure all of our apprentices have a buddy, who is a junior software engineer; a mentor, who is a senior software engineer; a line manager; and the academy manager, who routinely put on different training, workshops and give them projects to work on. We've even pipelined in not-for-profit projects for our guys to work on from front end to delivery, so that they have full exposure of what it is to be a software engineer before they start working on the GoCompare journey.

It's quite interesting that the National Society of Apprentices said that, in England, they felt that there was a lack of understanding among employers about what degree apprenticeships are, but that doesn't seem to be the case here today. You seem to have a very clear idea of what a degree apprenticeship should be—whether it's designed in that way, but you've got a clear idea of what it should look like. 

I think there's too much involvement, whether that's cost, resource—. We put press releases out when we make these hires; it's too high priority for it to fail. In the software engineering market, where it's so competitive because of the skills gap and it's a candidate-driven market, degree apprenticeships are a real opportunity to have staff retention long beyond just their three or four and a half years in university. 

Can I ask a kind of sideways question, then? How is a degree apprenticeship in any way different to a part-time professional postgraduate qualification?

Is that—sorry—for me?

Whoever wishes to come in first. Milly, go on, you go first. 

Honestly, I don't think I'm qualified to answer that question. Sorry. 

Okay, that's fine. That's no problem at all. Gavin. 

I have to differ. I would say that, from my perspective, you're creating someone at 18, after A-levels, whether they're going to university or they're coming on to a degree apprenticeship, it's almost like a life choice of what it is, how they're choosing to go forward. Degree programmes are not for everybody and university is not for everybody. It's kind of a horses for courses approach; it's what attracts them. Some individuals want to get into the business and they want to learn business, some individuals want to go to university and consider the more academic route. So, again, for me, it's an alternative. There's no right or wrong in either of the two routes. It's an alternative that would interest an individual different than maybe what a university pathway—

But I would imagine you would have staff—. You may not, and I suspect Milly doesn't as she said she doesn't, but I imagine you have staff who are studying for degrees part-time.

So, don't they gain the same skills and the same opportunities to study a degree part-time on a day release?

Yes, they do, and I think we're in a position where the business can offer that to them. The difference I would say, from their perspective, is that they are in a full-time role. They have a job to deliver and, on top of that, the business is giving them time out to go to university. The difference with a degree apprentice is that their job is to be an apprentice and to go through their study path and their vocational development path. That's what they do, and they will move from placement to placement to placement that is aligned with what they need to deliver in the university. So there is a difference there, because they're expected to deliver aspects while they're in a placement, whereas somebody who is doing a part-time degree: 'I've still got to do my day job, I've still got a team to manage, I've still got finances to do, or whatever it might be, and I've got to work at home, with the kids around me, and all the rest of it.' It's a slightly different approach.  

One of the things that has sort of come through—. Sorry, Milly, you were going to say something. 

I was just going to add to that. Sorry, I don't think I initially understood the question. Our programme with the Open University that started last month, that was a degree apprenticeship that was purely advertised internally for existing members of staff, so for staff who have been wanting a pathway into software engineering that couldn't do it, whether that was because of time out of the office or funding. We actually now have three people—two females, one male—all not from our technology department, studying and enrolled on a software engineering degree through the OU. So, I just think the way that it's badged up might attract people that would never have thought of it; it was accessible to them—[Inaudible.] 

11:20

Some of the criticisms that we've had that it's essentially replicating what part-time degrees do, both of you would say that's clearly not the case. And is there any particular point that we could make in the report, perhaps as a recommendation, that would make that point? Is there something we could say that needs to be done to clarify that difference? 

The different between part-time study—

For me, it's just to reiterate the point that the objective of the apprentice is to complete their programme versus somebody who's doing a day job and studying on top of it. And whilst there is a day job in the middle of it, it's based around what they've got to learn.

There's a clear difference there, yes. 

Just to add, I think it's the employer commitment as well. If you've got your employer advertising a degree apprenticeship that they'd like you to get involved in, no matter if you sit in marketing, project management, whatever, you know you've got the backing from your employer instead of an employee taking a degree that they'd like to do to your learning and development team. And so, I think it's proactive from the employer instead of reacting to the employee's wants for learning and development.

Finally, I want to understand how the degree apprenticeships have been costed, if you can answer these, and how they could be made sustainable, because at the moment you've got £27,000. Is that realistic? Do we know how it's been costed? Is there anything that needs to change for it to go forward? 

Is that to me? 

Okay. I would say there's always an economic challenge that should be considered with any product. So, if you consider—. There are two different costing models that seem to be apparent. One is in further education where I believe it's called activity based, where they're basically looking at everything they do, costing what it's doing, and then providing that back to the Welsh Government to say, 'This is how much it costs to run a programme', whereas from the HE perspective, we seem to have the policy that it's a fixed level of £9,000 per annum, and that's what it costs regardless of whether you're in full time or part time. Therefore, the institutes base their costing models around that, whereas the universities will say, 'That's how we set our costing and this is how the FE institutes set theirs.' So, there is definitely a difference in the way that they do it, and I think if we were to apply economics to it, you would say, 'Okay, if I'm producing a new product, I would put that product on the market and it needs to be competitive, how would I go about costing that?' And it should be based on getting value for money or based on the activities that you're doing, it provides the cost, gives you a profit margin, and therefore you put it on the market and hopefully it sells. 

So, I think there's an aspect that you could say could be applied to HE to say, 'Why is it £9,000?' The universities will immediately come back and say, 'It's because this is what it costs to run the programme, this is what it costs to get this high level of education', and also there's an esteem aspect in there as well, whereas from a branding perspective, we don't want a race to the bottom, do we? They want to maintain that they are equivalent to all of the other universities, therefore the costing remains as it is.

From me? No, I think he's hit the nail on the head there. 

So, moving forward, do you think that the model as it is is okay? 

Sorry, I didn't catch that. 

Moving forward, assuming that this is a pilot and it moves forward, is it going to be sustainable in its current form?

11:25

There's a fixed budget from the Welsh Government, so if you want to expand degree apprenticeships and the charge is coming in at, I think, roughly £27,000 a year, clearly you're limiting what you can do, and you're also then going to be drawing budgets from other areas, which are clearly needed from the different levels in further education. So, if you've got a finite pot, there needs to be some discussions with the institutes that says, 'Okay, so how can we approach this?' We have to recognise that institutes have different operating costs and models, but I think that there needs to be a little bit of a pragmatic approach to it, saying that if we're going to be running degree apprenticeships, they've got to fit within the budget envelope that's been given. And if we want to expand it, therefore, you'll be robbing Peter to pay Paul if you keep your costings as they are, because of the amount of money that's been spent on a relatively low, or potentially ever-increasing number of starts on the degree apprenticeships. 

Milly, is there anything else you want to add? I appreciate sometimes the video link doesn't allow you to come in. Is there anything else that you feel you want to add to any of the issues that have been raised?

No. On that point, it's obviously for Welsh Government to work out with the academic providers. But, with regards to costings to employers, which, obviously, going down the traditional university route would be totally expunged on the academic side, I think it would be interesting to see if there is a conversation to be had to make the cost of the degree more competitive, as they're with us four days a week and we do so much training with them with regard to furthering their technical capabilities, as well as the soft side of things as well. 

Very eloquently put, I would say. 

Okay. In that case, thank you very much for being with us this morning. We really appreciate your time, coming out of your business day. The evidence that you've given to us has been invaluable really in helping us to have what you said on the record to help us with our piece of work. So, diolch yn fawr. Thank you very, very much for being with us today. 

Can I say to Members, are you happy to—? Are Members happy to move on, or is anybody—? Yes, we'll move on without a break. Right. We'll have a quick change around. 

5. Gradd-brentisiaethau: : Arolygiaeth Addysg a Hyfforddiant Cymru
5. Degree Apprenticeships: Education and Training Inspectorate for Wales

Bore da. Good morning, both. We move to item 5 in our last session of today's panel sessions, to continue with our piece of work in regards to degree apprenticeships. And I'd like to welcome members from the Education and Training Inspectorate for Wales. I wonder if you could introduce yourselves, just for the public record.

Okay. Hi, I'm Jassa Scott, strategic director in Estyn. 

Mark Evans, Her Majesty's inspector of education and training in Estyn. 

Thank you very much for taking time to be with us today. Can you tell us a little bit about your work in relation to higher apprenticeships, and perhaps what lessons might have been learnt in terms of supporting degree apprenticeships?

Certainly. Can I, first of all, say thank you for the invitation to be here today? So, Estyn's role in inspecting apprenticeships goes back 20 years now, and with the higher apprenticeships, obviously, more recently—from 2011, when they were introduced, onwards. And we cover inspection at that range of levels, from foundation apprenticeships, through to higher apprenticeships. We obviously believe passionately in apprenticeships as a model for delivery, and we welcome the pilot at the degree apprenticeships programme. I think that's a really good way to build on what's already there. I'm going to let Mark talk a little bit about how we approach those inspections, and some of the lessons from higher apprenticeships in particular.

11:30

Thank you. When we undertake inspections, and we visit learners—we visit learners, what we call 'on the job', which is in the workplace, and we undertake a wide range of activities. And these activities may include observing the learners undertaking their normal job role, it could be learners undertaking assessments—we review their written work—and we also review their competence. It's also common practice to speak to the employer at a given time, and we ask the employer what type of support they're giving to the learners. We look at what coaching and mentoring is taking place, and we look at quality aspects—i.e. their links with the training provider, the regularity of visits et cetera. So, we cover a wide range of activity when we visit learners in their workplaces. But just to be clear, we also visit learners when they undertake off-the-job activities. That could be in a further education institution, or it can be in the provider's own training premises.

Some key aspects of our higher apprenticeships report—some of the key recommendations that we drew out from higher apprenticeships were the timely completions of qualifications. And what we meant by that is learners complete their frameworks within their scheduled duration of training. We found that too many learners were taking an extended period of time, beyond their designated time frame, to complete. Making sure that learners get the correct and robust advice and guidance, to make sure they're on the right programme, they have the right prerequisite qualifications, experience and levels to go on to a programme. To also make sure that learners have a workplace mentor, and we'd like to talk more about that later. But that's to make sure there's a designated person in the workplace who will give those learners daily one-to-one support to develop their workplace competence and skills. And also for training providers to engage with a wide range of employers. And what we found is that training providers often work with the same number of employers, and there's quite a number of large companies, small and medium-sized enterprises, and micro-businesses across Wales that are not accessing training. So, it's to widen the scope of the higher apprenticeships provision.

In that report, we did focus very clearly on workplace mentoring or coaching. And what we found is that, where there is a designated mentor or coach in the workplace, learners progress at strong rates—they achieve their qualifications within the designated time frame, and they do develop higher level practical competence and theory knowledge. And we also found that, where there's a culture within the workplace of training and development, and support to the higher level, those learners do get good-quality training, and they do succeed. And we think the key to any successful programme, such as the higher apprenticeship programme, is to make sure there's true integration, and there's a true balance of on-the-job activity and off-the-job activity. And if that is the case, the two very much complement each other, and it leads to a skilled employee who adds value to that business.

There was quite a bit in there that Members may have questions on, so I'm not going to ask any myself, because Members have already indicated some areas they want to talk about. So, I'll move on to Helen Mary Jones's set of questions.

Thank you. In your original written submission to us, you recommended that recruitment is used proactively to widen participation. And we know that the demographic that's currently involved in degree apprenticeships is quite narrow. Can you explain if this is something that you explored in your higher apprenticeship report? And are there any lessons from that report that we could learn in terms of recommendations we might want to make about widening participation in degree apprenticeships?

11:35

Yes, certainly. I think apprenticeship provision, generally, has had benefits over the years, in terms of certainly allowing, perhaps, learners from more deprived backgrounds—it's got a strong tradition of actually opening up access to education and training at higher levels. There is some history of that in general.

What we've found in higher apprenticeships, and it seems to be similar for the degree apprenticeships, from the evidence others have given to you, is that recruitment is often via progression from lower levels. So, it may be people who are already employed and have worked through some other level of apprenticeship to get to that higher apprenticeship level, and obviously that has its benefits, and we're not saying that's a bad thing. But what it means is that there is less perhaps open recruitment, which allows perhaps for more targeted recruitment, and that would be the case for the higher apprenticeships, and it would appear that that's, to a certain extent, been the case for degree apprenticeships. We feel that a combination of those would allow those apprenticeships at higher levels to be marketed in a more proactive way, which means that you can more proactively widen participation.

I think it's interesting that the vast majority of the participants on the degree apprenticeship programme are 21 and over, and, to a certain extent, with higher apprenticeships we also find that it's learners joining later. So, there's still quite a lot of work to do, I think, to ensure that the apprenticeship brand really is a well-known, well-recognised, viable alternative to progress through your career, in terms of developing education and training, and taking that to those higher levels. 

We've done work previously on a few remits that really focused on this in detail. So, our report back in 2015, I think it was, around barriers to apprenticeships really pulled out some of those barriers. And what we found was that that lack of awareness, which I just talked about, is a real barrier, and I think there's still quite a bit of work to be done to raise awareness at all levels of apprenticeships. So, I guess that would apply for degree level as well. 

I think what we also found, at that point, was that there weren't enough role models from under-represented groups who had undertaken apprenticeships so could actually reach out to different communities, different groups to actually show them that this is a viable alternative. Sometimes, there is actual discrimination we found at that point. We found that language difficulties sometimes can be a barrier, and sometimes cultural differences and cultural understanding, in terms of what it means to be an apprentice. Sometimes it was seen, within certain communities, that that wasn't a valuable route to take and that actually a more academic route would be something that would be encouraged. So, that's what some of our work previously has found, and I'm guessing it would apply to degree apprenticeships as well, and I think some of those methods, in terms of actually reaching out and raising awareness, would be helpful. 

I just want to ask you more about the basis for the view, in your written evidence, where you say that there is greater need to engage with smaller training providers, and I'm quoting now,

'due to the lack of work-based activity included in the degree apprenticeships'.

Do you want to expand on that statement?

So, apprenticeships at all levels are, first and foremost, a job with training to industry standards. So, it's really vital that those on and off-the-job elements are integrated to actually allow that apprentice to succeed. And it's really important that that on-the-job aspect of it provides the opportunity for the apprentice to develop new skills as well as just applying learning that they might have had off the job. And what we find, in some cases, in higher apprenticeships is that, particularly where learners perhaps haven't progressed from other levels within that same training provider, they sometimes enter an apprenticeship, and they don't necessarily have some of the practical skills and knowledge that might have been delivered at a lower level.

So, with higher apprenticeships, that doesn't tend to be an issue, because, usually, that training provider is providing across a range of levels, so what they can do is draw on their delivery at other levels to plug some of those gaps, in terms of particular units or modules—it would fill those skills gaps. So, we wanted to flag it, really, as something for degree apprenticeship providers to be aware of, because, obviously, in some cases, they won't also be the deliverer at some of those lower levels. So, it was that feeling that, perhaps, a work-based activity might not be designed with that in mind, and they may need to be working with some of those smaller training providers to plug those gaps. So, it's just something we've seen happening on the higher apprenticeships. They find workarounds to it, and we wanted to flag it as something to be aware of, really.

11:40

It was, and I think the pilot degree apprenticeship programmes are very new. What we found with higher apprenticeships in the early days is you've got to really work to integrate that on and off-the-job bits, and make sure it is, actually, designed as a whole, so that that on-the-job training really delivers what it needs to deliver to actually get those apprenticeships to the sort of level of skills and knowledge they need to attain their programme or the qualifications.

We've already held an evidence session with Universities Wales, and Professor Julie Lydon has been here giving evidence. I imagine you've seen that evidence. One of the contentions in your written evidence that you've given to our committee, and I'm quoting, is:

'Higher education institutions have expertise in the design and delivery of degree courses but have less experience of liaison with employers and learners in the workplace for the work-based learning element.'

Universities Wales, and particularly Professor Lydon, felt very strongly that that second part of that contention wasn't the case, and that through, for example, applied research, they have a great deal of liaison with employers, and, indeed, many university lecturers were previously working in the environment in which they were researching. Therefore, can you just expand a little bit on that contention, and perhaps defend the dismissal from Universities Wales?

I think what we were saying there was not that higher education institutions don't have an extensive track record of working with employers—they do. One of the areas that we look at, for example, and inspect is initial teacher education, and that, clearly, is a partnership between employers, which are schools and universities. So, we've got first-hand evidence that they do have experience of working with employers.

I think what we're saying is that an apprenticeship is a certain way of delivering something—it's got a tradition, it's got a history, and it is very much about that very clear integration. It's someone who's employed in a job, and that on and off-the-job training is integrated very tightly within it. So, I think it was just a reflection that that particular exact model of delivery is newer for higher education. That doesn't mean that they can't draw on that extensive experience they've got of engaging with employers across other areas, but I think it's also important to learn from that delivery of apprenticeships across the other levels to ensure that that learning, in terms of how we deliver that integrated model of on and off-the-job learning—it comes together. So, that was where we were coming from, really.

And what about, from Estyn's point of view, an engagement with HE? You don't have involvement with HE.

Well, we do in certain areas.

We don't, in terms of the wider higher education. So, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales are the regulator for that, so they have systems in terms of regulated institutions who have, then, degree-awarding powers. There are particular areas where we do have an inspection role, which are different from a regulatory role. So, for example, in initial teacher education, in professional qualifications around youth and community work, we have powers to inspect those aspects.  

And would you like those kinds of powers with regard to degree apprenticeships?

We don't feel strongly about this. I think we've got expertise in terms of apprenticeships at the lower levels. We don't have expertise in terms of the whole range of higher education that HEFCW and others have. I think what we'd hope is that the learning that we've got from that experience up to higher apprenticeship level could actually maybe inform the quality assurance approaches and so on, in terms of something that's new, really.

11:45

Just before I come to that, you don't want to be inspecting degree-level apprenticeships?

We don't have a strong urge to do that. I mean, that's obviously a policy decision for Welsh Government, but we'd hope that whatever happens at level 6 and 7 is actually integrated and part of a continuum with what happens at the lower levels of apprenticeships.

In your evidence, you say:

'In terms of quality assuring degree apprenticeships, Estyn and QAA have established joint protocols of working together with HEFCW.' 

That is a more broad and strategic rather than a tactical inspection. You're developing the protocols by which these are quality assessed.

Yes. It's trying to work to think, where there are institutions that deliver across a number of aspects of provision—so you could have a further education institution that delivers higher education as a regulated institution, that delivers apprenticeships at all levels, that delivers further education, that delivers adult education—it's trying to think can we bring some synergy between the quality assurance and the regulatory and inspection mechanisms that work around that provider, really?

Okay. Can you tell us more about Estyn's role in the developmental review of degree apprenticeships that you've been invited to participate in with QAA?

Yes. We've had some informal discussions with HEFCW around this and, as part of those ongoing liaisons that we have with HEFCW and QAA around that broader working, they've asked how we could be involved in this. We'd see it as good practice to share approaches. This is a new aspect for them in terms of a pilot programme. There's lots of experience they have of quality assurance in higher education that will be relevant, but there may be things about how we approach inspection, that I might have talked about earlier, that could be helpful as well.

Does Estyn have a good working relationship with QAA?

We have a fledgling working relationship with QAA, I'd say, because it's largely been about sharing practice; having those strategic-level discussions.

But it hasn't developed to the extent that it would be required for degree-level apprenticeships?

At the moment, we don't have a role in inspecting degree apprenticeships. I think if there was at some point a role for us in that, then obviously that relationship would be on a different basis. But at the moment, in terms—

Do you think we should recommend a role as part of our report?

I wouldn't necessarily say that, but I think you should leave open that consideration. For example, some of the people who've been giving evidence to you have explored the challenge of: you've got level 4 and 5 higher apprenticeship provision, and you've got degree apprenticeship provision that takes people really from level 3 through to level 6 and maybe in the future 7, and I think there's some work to be done to think about how those two aspects of provision link, how learners can perhaps move between them, and so on.

So, I think in that sense it's helpful that you have shared thinking about policy, shared thinking about delivery and how that can be moved, but also from our point of view it helps that there's some shared thinking about how we quality assure and potentially inspect those different aspects. So, I think—

But you haven't got a specific idea of the way in which that should be done?

No. I think what we do that's different to QAA is, on inspection, we visit provision; we visit workplaces; we look at the work that's happening there; we look at the on-the-job training and the off-the-job training; we talk to employers; we look and observe first hand that learning that's taking place and the work and the assessment and the tutoring that's happening to support that.

The well-established quality assurance system in higher education takes a systems approach to try and make sure that the systems that universities themselves have in place are robust enough to ensure the quality of the teaching that's happening. So, they're different approaches for different contexts.

What we've got here is something that's kind of crossing those two contexts. So, why we need to work closely with QAA and with HEFCW, because ultimately they're the regulator, is to try and make sure that we find the best of those two approaches and see if we can bring that together in those areas that cross over, I think.

11:50

Thank you very much, Chair. Thank you very much, panel. Good morning to you. We have heard that there may be an issue obtaining the specialist occupational knowledge needed to develop frameworks and review them. To what extent has this been an issue for other types of apprenticeships? I would like to ask Mark about that, being a judge and jury of these apprenticeship degrees in Wales. What would you like us to recommend to Welsh Government on that basis?