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What’s the difference between degree apprenticeships and degrees?

The new apprenticeship alliance: degree apprenticeships mean learners can get the best of university AND apprenticeships.

What's the difference between degree apprenticeships and degrees?

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Degree apprenticeships and traditional degrees have the same qualification level – but both offer pros and cons depending on the learner. Here at OneFile, we explain the key differences.  

Traditional degrees have been valued for centuries, but a ‘new kid in town’ is giving them a run for their money – the Degree apprenticeship, which offers learners the chance to achieve the same level qualification, while getting a wage, and without having to pay fees.  It’s not surprising that this formula has proved popular with students, universities, and employers alike.   

But traditional degrees remain popular – especially in subjects where an apprenticeship might not be available.  

Read on to find guidance from experts at OneFile, who have set out eight key differences between degrees (D) and Degree Apprenticeships (DA). 

1. Courses available 

D: The UK has a centuries-old legacy of universities, and so there are thousands of degree courses available in almost every conceivable area of study.   

DA: Degree apprenticeships are relatively new within higher education, and so at the moment, there are fewer courses available – but you can still study a wide range, from accounting to travel. At the same time, interest from universities is growing, so we expect numbers to rise rapidly.  

2. Course delivery

D: Traditionally, degree students spend a proportion of their time on campus, attending lectures and seminars, and completing self-guided learning at home.   

DA: Degree apprentices spend around 30 hours a week learning practical skills in the workplace, and 6 hours per week of their time completing off-the-job training.  Apprentices must meet standards set out in the protocol for each apprenticeship. 

3. Assessment process

D: Degree students complete a series of assessments throughout their course, such as assignments, presentations or group projects. Many students also complete a dissertation and have end-of-year exams.   

DA: Degree apprenticeships are assessed at the end of the programme during an end-point assessment (EPA). The EPA can take a range of forms, such as an exam, portfolio showcase or professional discussion.   

4. Audit trails 

D: Traditional degrees require a full audit trail. Universities must measure student attendance and engagement with online resources, and submit the records for audit. Institutions also use anti-plagiarism software, as well as internal and external moderators, to maintain standards and quality.   

DA: Degree apprenticeships are quality assured by the QAA, so, as with traditional degrees, the universities involved must record the full audit trail to stay compliant. This can be a challenge when apprentices spend 80%most of their time training in the workplace, so most universities use eportfolios to track apprentices’ progress remotely.    

5. Awarding bodies 

Universities are the awarding bodies for both degree apprenticeships and traditional degrees.   

6. Employer opinion and employability

D: Many employers respect academic achievement and still specify traditional degrees within job descriptions. There are also potential opportunities in studying alongside a large group of peers at the same time. However, with high numbers of people going to university, candidates still have to fight hard to land a great job at the end of their studies.  

DA: Some degree apprentices might not gain as large a social network as if they went to University, but an increasing number of employers love degree apprenticeships. That’s because they can align apprenticeship standards to meet the specific gaps within their organisation, train candidates in the exact way they require, and have degree-level apprentices working on-the-job from day one.  

7. Funding 

D: Degrees are funded by students – usually via loans from the Student Loans Company.  For many, this is becoming a financial strain, with fees of up to £9,250 a year.  

DA: If the apprentice's employer pays the apprenticeship levy, this will be used to pay for the learner’s training costs. When an employer does not pay the levy, it would work with the government to split costs of the apprenticeship.  

8. Earning potential 

D: Graduates have higher employment rates and earn an average of £31,000 per year, compared to £22,100 for non-graduates.   

DA: Degree apprentices start earning from day one, don't have any student debt, and are already in a job when they qualify – so they have very good earning potential. In fact, 77% of apprentices stay with the same employer, and 36% of higher apprentices get a promotion after completing their apprenticeship.   

When it comes to pros and cons, it's a pretty close race. So to help you tell degree apprenticeships and traditional degrees apart, check out our comparison chart.  

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This article includes research and opinion sourced by OneFile at the time of publication. Things may have changed since then,
so this research is to be used at the reader's discretion. OneFile is not liable for any action taken based on this research.