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What are degree apprenticeships?

Degree apprenticeships are a specific type of apprenticeship that combine work with higher level study that leads to a degree. They can take between two to five years to complete depending on the level. On successful completion, degree apprentices are awarded either a bachelor’s degree (level 6) or a master’s degree (level 7).

Degree apprentices are employed by a company and paid a salary. They are entitled to the same rights as other employees, including a contract of employment and at least 20 days paid holiday per year, plus bank holidays. Degree apprentices spend at least 20% of their time studying (a minimum of six hours). As with other apprenticeships, course fees are shared between government and employers through the apprenticeship levy. 

Which employers and universities offer degree apprenticeships?

Degree apprenticeships are available at universities in England and Wales. In Scotland, degree apprenticeships are known as Graduate Apprenticeships. Northern Ireland offers higher level apprenticeships (HLAs) at levels 4 to 7.

Over 170 degree apprenticeships are available in a range of subjects, but especially vocational subjects linked to particular industries, such as engineering, digital, law, and business. They are offered by both public and private sector employers, in conjunction with nearly 90 universities, particularly post-92 institutions.

In England, degree apprenticeships can be searched through the Government’s Find an apprenticeship service, and the UCAS and Prospects websites. In Wales, they can be found on the Careers Wales website.

How are degree apprenticeships regulated?

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) set out the roles of the different organisations involved in ensuring the quality of apprenticeships in its 2021 Apprenticeship accountability statement:

  • The Department for Education, acting through the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), has overall accountability for degree apprenticeships and all aspects of apprenticeships policy and strategy.
  • The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) is responsible for the development, approval, and review of apprenticeship standards. These outline what an apprentice will be doing in a particular apprenticeship, and the knowledge, skills, and behaviour required of them. They are linked to an occupation.
  • Ofsted inspects the quality of apprenticeship training provision.
  • The Office for Students (the higher education regulator in England) regulates registered higher education providers and quality assures degree apprenticeship delivery.

How are degree apprenticeships funded?

Each apprenticeship standard is associated with a funding band. The upper limit of this band represents the maximum the Government will contribute towards training and assessment costs of the apprenticeship.

Apprenticeship levy funds will be used to pay for the training and assessment for employers paying the levy (up to the upper limit of the funding band). All UK employers with a pay bill of over £3 million per year pay the levy, which is set at 0.5% of the value of the employer’s pay bill, minus an apprenticeship levy allowance of £15,000 per financial year. The levy is paid into an apprenticeship service account, and funds in this account must be spent on apprenticeship training and assessment.

Employers who do not pay the levy will pay 5% of the cost of training and assessment with the government contributing the remaining 95% (up to the upper limit of the funding band).

In September 2023, the Office for Students launched a funding competition for eligible higher education providers to submit bids to support the development of degree apprenticeships at level 6. Funding of £40 million will be distributed in three waves between January 2024 and July 2025.

How many people start degree apprenticeships and in which subjects?

In 2022/23, around 46,800 people in England started a degree apprenticeship. 53% of these starts were at level 6 (first degree equivalent) and 47% at level 7 (equivalent to a master’s degree).

Chart showing the number of degree apprenticeships starts in England from 2016/17. Numbers have increased rapidly and were around 47,000 in 2022/23 (25,000 level 6 and 22,000 level 7) 

Source: DfE, Apprenticeships and traineeships 2022/23

Those starting degree apprenticeships made up 5.0% of all level 6 entrants, and 8.6% of all level 7 entrants, in England in 2021/22.

Degree apprenticeships subjects have been dominated by ‘business, administration and law’ since they were introduced. These subjects made up 80% of level 7 and almost 20% of level 6 apprenticeship starts in 2022/23. However, there has been rapid growth in ‘health, public services and care’ subjects; up from around 400 starters in 2017/18 to more than 13,000 across both levels in 2022/23. They made up 46% of level 6 starts in 2022/23.

Who are degree apprentices?

In 2022/23, there were similar numbers of male and female starters. In earlier years more starters were male, but the number of female starters has caught up over time.

Only a minority (13%) of level 6 starters were age 18 (and so leaving full-time education). 53% of level 6 starters and 62% of level 7 starters were aged 25 or older.

82% of 2022/23 starters at level 6 and 73% at level 7 were from a White ethnic background.

Chart showing the make-up by sex, age and ethnicity of level 6 and level 7 degree apprenticeship starts in England in 2022/23

Source: DfE, Apprenticeships and traineeships 2022/23 (Dataset:  Subjects – Starts, Achievements, Enrolments by Age, Sex, Ethnicity, LLDD, SSA, Detailed level, Standard-framework name and code)

Compared to level 6 entrants to ‘conventional’ higher education, level 6 apprenticeship starters are more likely to be older, male, White and less likely to be from the most deprived areas.


Some of the benefits of degree apprenticeships include:

  • Students can earn a salary and develop relevant work-based skills while gaining a degree, and then graduate with no student loan debt.
  • Degree apprenticeships are a way to ensure higher education provision meets the needs of the labour market. Employers can address skills shortages, enhance opportunities for their own employees, and widen the talent pool of their recruits.
  • Universities can establish links with employers and strengthen existing collaborations. This can help promote local growth and development and increase talent retention in an area.
  • Degree apprenticeships can help with social mobility and widening participation in higher education by attracting students that might not have gone into traditional university programmes.

Concerns have been expressed about the use of the apprenticeship levy to fund senior, highly skilled employees for level 7 (master’s level) leadership degree apprenticeships, at the expense of recruiting new, younger employees. In May 2020, the Sutton Trust published a report that found 33% of degree apprenticeship levy funding was being spent on senior leaders, which was the same amount as all degree apprentices under 25 put together. In 2021, the funding for level 7 senior leadership apprenticeships was reduced, and the MBA qualification is now no longer a mandated part of the apprenticeship.

In 2022, a literature review argued while the results were somewhat mixed, degree apprenticeships were having an overall “positive impact” on social mobility. Nevertheless, it said achieving equity in access to degree apprenticeships in some sectors may remain a challenge for a while, and recommended IfATE, with the support of sector organisations, should formulate policies and guidelines to encourage recruitment from under-represented backgrounds.

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