The Minister of Apprenticeships and Skills has expressed the need to make apprenticeships more accessible to disadvantaged groups who otherwise may miss out on key opportunities for progression. 

Gillian Keegan, Minister of Apprenticeships and Skills, has warned that people from disadvantaged backgrounds could be “squeezed out” of degree apprenticeship opportunities.

Speaking to the House of Commons education select committee, Ms. Keegan said:

There is a growth in degree apprenticeships, but the very important point is how we make them more accessible to more disadvantaged groups.

What we are fearful of is that a lot of people will suddenly see that degree apprenticeships are a very good option and people who would have gone to university anyway would just choose that route and squeeze out people like me, sat in a comprehensive school at 16, with nowhere to go thinking ‘How do I get on in life?’

According to a report published by the Social Mobility Commission in June 2020, the findings revealed that “the main beneficiaries of apprenticeships are the people who do not need them”.

This was attributed to the Apprenticeship Levy, introduced in 2017, which – according to the report – “has disproportionately funded higher-level apprenticeships for learners from more advantaged communities, rather than those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, who would benefit more”.

As such, between 2015-2016 and 2017-2018, the number of disadvantaged apprentice starts overall fell by over a third (36 per cent) which was 13 per cent more than the corresponding drop marked within privileged apprenticeship colleagues.

In addition, almost half of women and older starters (43 per cent) among disadvantaged learners were particularly harmed by these reforms.

Within the recommendations of the report, the Commission stated that it was not adequate for the Government to assume apprenticeships automatically improve social mobility and leave the system to its own devices.

However, Ms. Keegan refuted the idea that the Government should work to change the scheme, stating:

Many employers are switching from graduate programmes to degree apprenticeships because they have seen they get better results. You quite often get unintended consequences when the government intervenes in various bits of this system.

These comments come as the Government plans to launch a public consultation to review degree apprenticeships policy in the UK, citing that this would take place in Spring 2021.