There has been significant growth in the number of HEIs delivering apprenticeships in recent years. With this comes a need for greater understanding of how they can be delivered, and the complexities involved. Here, Claire Taylor MBE, SUMS Principal Consultant, shares some learnings on recent work on Apprenticeships for the University of West England, Bristol.

Apprenticeships are a growing area of delivery for many SUMS members. We have recently completed work with three universities to support them in developing their delivery in this area. For the University of London (UoL), we looked at operating models; for Solent University (Solent), we looked at financial models; and for the University of the West of England (UWE), we looked at the apprentice lifecycle and compliance.


Historically, HEIs had been delivering degree apprenticeships under a number of frameworks. However, in 2016/17 the government launched a new programme for the delivery of higher degree apprenticeships (broadly levels 6 and 7) under a series of new standards. Trailblazer groups of HEIs and employers worked together to define standards and launch new programmes. This signalled a significant growth in the number of HEIs delivering apprenticeships, the number of standards that were provided across the sector and the number of apprentices taking higher degree apprenticeships (HDAs) with HEIs as their main provider.

Reflecting this investment across the sector, most HEIs appointed a Head of Apprenticeships or similar around 2016/17. And, with this role, they initiated a project to expand apprenticeship provision. Initial areas of focus included health (particularly nursing), construction, and leadership and management. Over the following four years, HEIs then integrated apprenticeships into business-as-usual to a lesser or greater extent.

Up to April 2021, the Office for Students (OfS) will be responsible for assuring the academic quality of higher degree apprenticeships. However, from April 2021 onwards, Ofsted will assume this responsibility. This marks an extension of the responsibilities Ofsted has traditionally held for levels 2-5. In addition, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has responsibility for assuring financial aspects. Professional, statutory and regulatory bodies also hold audit powers for those standards they oversee. All of these bodies can audit providers on an announced or unannounced basis. Compliance or non-compliance will have significant financial and reputational impacts. It is essential, therefore, that as HEIs expand their delivery of HDAs, they ensure programmes are compliant in terms of delivery, administrative and financial processes, systems, and data.

Research for Our Members

For UoL, SUMS looked at growth opportunities by analysing HESA data on delivery of HDAs by English HEIs. We then considered UoL’s unique operating model and put forward proposals for expansion.

For Solent, SUMS looked at the underlying financial model for apprenticeships and built an income and expenditure model, specific to that institution, looking at fixed, semi-variable and variable costs. This was interrogated to understand the implications of various growth scenarios, across the organisation and over time. 

For UWE, SUMS pulled together a lifecycle for an apprentice, interweaving requirements for compliance with ESFA and Ofsted with the standard learner lifecycle. This asset enabled conversations with stakeholders to understand the material differences between standard learners and apprentices, between standard programmes and apprenticeships and the importance of the employer.

Key Findings

Apprentices are not standard learners; there are material differences in terms of the application process, progression, breaks in learning and withdrawals, data reporting and the amount of time spent working, learning, and training.  Apprenticeships are not standard programmes; there are material differences in terms of the adherence to standards, the endpoint, cash flow, audit, and risk profiles.

The success or failure of any individual apprentice will be down to a three- or four-way relationship between the apprentice, their employer, the main provider, and any sub-contracted training provider.

SUMS has built an understanding of how institutions can introduce and grow apprenticeship activity. In particular:

  • Organisation – structure, capabilities, and capacity in different operating models
  • Employer engagement
  • Processes – from application to preparation for end-point assessment
  • Integration and culture
  • Systems, data and information to support delivery and compliance.

How We Can Help Your Institution

SUMS Consulting has produced an Apprentice Lifecycle Asset which visualises the apprentice lifecycle and the complexities in relationships between the different stakeholders:

The asset analyses the milestones and key tasks along the lifecycle and sets out the key decisions and the knowledge, information and data required to deliver success at each point.  It then considers the key risks throughout the lifecycle and provides space for institutions to capture opportunities for improvement.

The lifecycle asset is designed to be personalised for each institution:

  • The risk profile can be updated and completed (rated for likelihood and impact)
  • The opportunity profile can be updated and completed (rated for impact on strategic drivers and costs).

The lifecycle asset has been devised to help institutions think about how they can improve support for apprentices and apprenticeships across the institution, to look at where processes can be integrated and where differences between apprentices and standard learners are material and require specific support.  It allows institutions to look at the necessary capabilities and where those sit within organisation structures.  The data and information section looks at ESFA and Ofsted requirements and outlines where that data should be collected over the lifecycle.  Lastly, it enables a high-level view of risks and opportunities.

SUMS members will be able to access a pack containing the lifecycle asset and instructions for completion.

Of course, if you would like more in-depth support to review your apprentice provision (for example target operating models, financial models, organisation structures, systems and data reviews), we would be delighted to help. Please get in touch to discuss specific projects.

Note: The lifecycle asset is not exhaustive in relation to ESFA and Ofsted requirements, the detail of these change, at least on an annual basis. Any in-depth work would consider the regulations in place for the apprentice cohorts that are currently on the programme.

SUMS is a membership-based higher education consultancy, a registered charity and not-for-profit organisation that provides expert consulting to universities across all professional service areas.

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