Universities must offer more apprenticeships, Sheffield vice-chancellor says

Comments by Sir Keith Burnett follows criticisms from business minister than some universities held a 'snobbish' attitude to the courses

January 27, 2016

UK universities must offer more degree apprenticeships in science and engineering, the vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield will argue at the Council for the Defence of British Universities’ annual lecture.

Sir Keith Burnett was set to tell members of the council – set up in 2012 to oppose the marketisation of higher education – that industry and the UK economy needed “the skills of the future”, not just research.

“Recent changes in our universities and polytechnics mean that highest quality vocational routes into education have in many cases withered and died. That has had disastrous consequences for the UK and for real student choice,” he was to say. 

However, a lack of money was a barrier to offering these courses, Sir Keith believes. “Our apprentice training which draws companies to invest in our region is subsidised by other work. We know this training can’t be done on the cheap. We don’t do it because of a market. We do it because it is right." 

Degree apprenticeships were launched in March 2015, and the government hopes that universities will work with employers and professional bodies to offer more of them.

Last week the business secretary Sajid Javid said that he thought Russell Group universities had a “snobbish” attitude to apprenticeships. They resisted them because they felt they would “devalue” their “brand”, he told MPs.

In his speech, due to be made in London on 27 January, Sir Keith was set to attack the idea that the needs of students and society – such as medical research into conditions such as Alzheimer’s - could be served by the marketisation of higher education.

Government plans, set out in last year’s Green Paper, would allow universities to charge different fees depending on how well they do in a proposed teaching excellence framework.

It also proposes the creation of a regulator, the Office for Students, which would promote a student-led market for university courses.  

The University of Cambridge recently set out objections to the plans, arguing that the paper could cause “considerable damage to the sector and its international reputation” and said it was “opposed to further steps towards the marketization of higher education implied by increased differentiation of fees”. 

david.matthews@tesglobal.com

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