Emerging trends and challenges
After completing a university degree, many graduates face difficulties in finding a job and in meeting the skills requirements of the local, national, regional and global labour markets. In many countries, the skills gap is significant for several degree subjects, whereas apprenticeships are known to be one of the most efficient and effective ways of helping students to acquire skills that are relevant to labour market demands. Apprentices stand a better chance of finding employment than graduates from the conventional education system. They also earn while learning, thus avoiding the need to resort to student loans during their studies, unlike many of their peers studying in universities.
Although many apprenticeships are situated at around ISCED Level 3 (or upper-secondary level), apprenticeship models are also proven to be applicable to higher levels of qualification. However, it has been challenging for many countries to apply the apprenticeship model to higher education for the following key underlying reasons:
- Apprenticeships require education institutes to work in partnership with employers to design and organize training programmes for universities and industry. For many academics and university administrators, this could be a daunting, complex task.
- It is not easy to find enough placements in industry for the on-the-job training component for all students undergoing the vast range of courses available in universities.
- The traditional model of apprenticeships, where students typically spend 70 per cent or more of their total time at the workplace, may not be appropriate for many university degree courses.
- Apprenticeships require educational institutions to play a supporting role to industry in the position of off-the-job training providers, which universities may find irksome.
Considering the benefits of the apprenticeship model over traditional classroom-based education, countries such as Australia, Germany, India, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States have started to expand apprenticeships at the higher education level.
Higher or degree-level apprenticeships (equivalent to ISCED Level 6) are part of the dual system university programmes in Germany. They also exist in the form of “alternance” arrangements in some university programmes in France and are known as “degree apprenticeships” in England.
The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) project, funded through the pilots initiative, is a collaboration between the Ai Group, Siemens Ltd and Swinburne University of Technology. Swinburne has developed two new higher education qualifications for the pilot scheme, a Diploma and an Associate Degree in Applied Technologies (ILO, 2020b).
“Oxbridge” (the collective term for the universities of Oxford and Cambridge), widely known as the pinnacle of UK higher education, has also begun to offer opportunities to apprentices. In Cambridge University, the types of apprenticeship on offer vary by subject and complexity of programme, ranging from Level 3 (A level) to Level 7 (master’s level).
Several examples of degree-level apprenticeships with a focus on digital skills are provided earlier in this chapter. Box 7.4 illustrates an additional example from India.
Box 7.4 National Open College Network (India)
Although the degree-level apprenticeship model represents a huge leap in terms of both regulation and delivery in India, National Open College Network seeks to integrate apprenticeships into degree-level education, following the UK example. Its pilot programme is commissioned by the UK’s Department for International Development and aims to impart the necessary skills for employment in areas such as aerospace and aviation, the automotive industry and the renewable energy sector.