The University of Sheffield has been criticised for a “perverse” use of part of its apprenticeship levy money: paying for its senior managers to take its own MBAs.
Critics of the scheme at Sheffield, which is known for its record of providing apprenticeships for young people in South Yorkshire through its Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, believe that the university should have instead sought to spend all of its contribution to the levy on apprenticeships accessible to the wider community.
Universities have already faced criticism for creating a “new market in cut-price MBA courses” to bring in income from other employers’ levy money. Sheffield’s scheme raises questions about how universities are spending their own levy money – and whether it is going into their own MBAs and other qualifications for senior managers.
Sheffield’s “senior leadership apprenticeships” offer “an exciting opportunity to undertake either an MSc or an MBA in senior leadership” delivered by its Management School, according to the university website.
“Whilst priority consideration will be given to those in key leadership roles, including HoDs [heads of department], faculty directors, departmental executive teams and departmental managers (administrative and technical), we are happy to consider applications from other roles,” the website says.
All large employers in England pay the levy – charged at 0.5 per cent of their pay bill – and they are then free to choose how to spend the money on training.
Minutes from Sheffield’s university executive board say that the senior leadership apprenticeships “formed part of the university’s wider commitment to developing leadership and management capacity and would enable the university to utilise a greater proportion of apprenticeship levy funding without detriment to other developments”. This suggests that Sheffield is making use of an underspend on its levy money through the scheme.
A spokesman for the Sheffield branch of the University and College Union said: “If we’ve understood the university’s intentions correctly, this perverse use of the apprenticeship levy seems at odds with our institution’s claim on being a ‘civic university’.
“The money should be spent on furthering opportunities for the wider community, not on developing the CVs of the university’s highest-paid staff.”
Jon Richards, Unison’s head of education, said: “Technically, what they are doing is within the rules – but is an area we have concern about.”
He said that a key question was whether the scheme was “part of a suite of apprenticeships which give opportunities to staff at all grades within the university”, or “a continuation of normal practice, which is that in general most training budgets have been spent on senior and professional staff, whilst support staff have struggled to get CPD and time off to attend it”.
A Sheffield spokeswoman said: “We currently employ 50 apprentices across a variety of roles including business administration, human resources, public relations, as well as university technicians.
“The senior leadership apprenticeship cohort – which forms part of our commitment to renew, broaden and enhance the university’s leadership and management development offering – will take approximately 20 members of staff from January 2019.
“We are continuing to recruit apprentices in other roles across the university, as well as supporting the development of our existing members of staff who want to undertake apprenticeships.”