This week I and four Applegate degree apprentices spoke at a reception in parliament to mark the anniversary of the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship. It was a great celebration, attended by MPs, peers and others, and it was pleasing to find my speech quoted from the frontbench of the House of Lords the following day.

In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of young people going on to university, yet since the start of this decade the number of part time students has fallen by 61% - a drop recently described as ‘catastrophic’ by Lord Sharkey. We seem to have slipped into a collective assumption that a residential degree course is a panacea, that spending three years in full time study is the only option. Why? It’s absolutely the right course for many to take; that was my own path and I don’t regret it. But if we’re to release the potential of all our school and college leavers, not only the half who head off in over-packed parental cars to distant halls of residence, we need a diversity of provision in post-18 education.

Different people learn in different ways, some will gain most from three years dedicated to full-time study, others will benefit from applied learning, alternating attending lectures with putting concepts into practice in the workplace. Personal circumstances can also dictate whether going away to university is possible: some have no choice but to start earning, or need to stay close to home due to caring obligations. Degree apprenticeships deserve to have a higher profile as an option for post-18 study.

And there is one grey, trumpeting mastodon trying to make its presence felt in this particular room. Degree apprentices come from every social background, but school and college leavers from deprived (‘assisted’) areas and less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to take up, and to complete, a residential university course. If we’re serious about social mobility, about enabling equality of opportunity for all to fulfil their potential, then we need to get serious about providing different means for people to reach the educational attainment of which they’re capable.

I cannot see how we can address social mobility without degree apprenticeships playing a greater role in post-18 provision. For the student there are no university fees, you’re paid whilst you study as well as whilst working and your learning can be aided through the opportunity to put the theory into practice at work. Employers get great, motivated, fresh-thinking staff, it costs the Treasury less than full time study and, above all, the country makes more of its talent – from whatever background or corner of the nation it comes.

It’s time for us all – students, providers, employers and government - to take degree apprenticeships seriously.

Upwardly mobile apprentices taking tea on Pall Mall before the event in parliament

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