Universities use apprenticeship levy to fund academics’ training

Scheme means universities can spend levy money on own training for lecturers instead of seeing it claimed by government

October 23, 2019
Source: Getty

UK universities are running £9,000 apprenticeship courses for academics, allowing the institutions to keep apprenticeship levy money they pay out as employers instead of seeing it claimed by the government, but prompting warnings about funds being channelled away from non-academic and younger staff.

One university promoting Academic Professional Apprenticeships to staff, Birmingham City University, states that among the course’s “key benefits to the institution” are that it “provides the institution with the ability to draw down apprenticeship levy funding for…staff development activity”.

The 18- to 24-month courses with total fees of £9,000 offer training in teaching or research practice, leading to a Level 7 qualification and recognition as a fellow of the Higher Education Academy. The Institute for Apprenticeships approved them for delivery in May 2018.

However, one academic told Times Higher Education that they had raised concerns within their university about highly qualified new lecturers being placed on “apprenticeship” courses.

In a survey of 65 institutions published by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association earlier this month, 16.1 per cent of respondents said they were already delivering Academic Professional Apprenticeships, and a further 18.4 per cent said they planned to do so in the next 12 months.

They were created by a consortium led by Sheffield and Bucks New universities, which has also launched apprenticeships for other higher education staff, including administrators and technicians.

The listing for the academic apprenticeship on the IfA website says that academics “have considerable expertise in a particular subject discipline, usually as indicated by the completion of postgraduate level 7 or level 8 qualifications, but still need the substantial training indicated below to acquire full competency as an academic professional”.

Employers with a payroll bill above £3 million a year must pay the apprenticeship levy – introduced by the government in 2017 – at 0.5 per cent of their total payroll bill.

Large employers, including universities, pay the levy to HM Revenue & Customs each month, and funds are held in an individual account, to which the government adds a 10 per cent contribution. Employers can draw down funds from this account to pay for apprenticeship training. However, funds that are unused 24 months after entering the account are reclaimed by HMRC.

The Ucea survey found that respondents expected to recoup an average 7.5 per cent of their levy payments by using apprenticeships internally.

The University of Exeter said it currently had about 60 academic staff taking apprenticeship courses. “This is a very small proportion of our apprenticeships at Exeter, and we are proud of the way we use the apprenticeship levy to innovate and provide opportunities to people at all levels,” a spokesman said.

Jon Richards, head of education and local government for trade union Unison, which represents a range of non-academic university staff, said the introduction of the levy has “distorted training and development” across the UK, with money “channelled to support high-level professionals rather than traditional technical routes for new and younger workers at lower levels”.

He continued: “It would be interesting to see if universities offering academic apprenticeships do so as part of a cross-workforce strategy or are just spending their levy money the easiest way they can.” University support staff “are crying out for training and CPD”, Mr Richards added.

THE reported last year that the University of Sheffield had been criticised for using part of its apprenticeship levy fund to pay for its senior managers to take its own MBAs, which it said would “enable the university to utilise a greater proportion of apprenticeship levy funding”.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

There is a very simple solution, stop accepting level 7 or 8 qualifications as "apprenticeships". I doubt any member of the general public would regard a PhD or MBA as an apprenticeship, especially if it is being undertaken by somebody already earning £60k+/year

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