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Investment in police education could now be for nothing

Rachel Hewitt
August 7, 2023

You needn’t listen to the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Robert Halfon for long to realise why he says that his favourite two words in the English language are ‘degree’ and ‘apprenticeship’. At Staffordshire University’s international conference on ‘Delivery and Policy of Degree Apprenticeships’ this June, he described these courses as ‘changing lives’. 

Halfon’s warm words have been supported with action across the higher education sector, with a seven per cent increase in apprenticeship starts in the last year. Modern universities have pioneered the development of degree apprenticeships, with 75 per cent of starters being educated through one of these institutions. This is supported by UCAS also raising the profile of these qualifications with prospective students, displaying them to applicants alongside ‘traditional’ undergraduate degrees.

With many calls for diversifying routes into higher education and its delivery, these qualifications are addressing skills widely needed, including, critically, across key public services, with 55 per cent of starters at modern universities being in health, public services and care. Given current shortages in the public sector workforce, these are much needed to address the needs of the labour market.

However, recent policy changes have had unintended ramifications for the future of these qualifications in one area, which will impact universities’ perspective of the stability, and thus the appeal of expanding degree apprenticeship provision.

Modern universities have been instrumental in training new police officers since the College of Policing instructed that police officers were required to be educated to degree level from 2020, a reflection of the complexity inherent in modern policing. Universities were encouraged to work with local police forces to create a Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA).

Unfortunately, the Home Secretary’s decision to allow for a non-degree ‘fourth route’ into policing undermines the effort and investment that modern universities have poured into policing degree apprenticeships, with police services now less likely to renew or in some cases renege on current contracts with universities for this provision. The impact of this announcement has been immediate; one MillionPlus institution has already been informed that a contract with one of its police partners is not to be renewed, while another reports that one Chief Constable has advised that up to 70 per cent of officers could withdraw.

This lack of joined up thinking between Government departments is unfortunately all too common but the consequences for PCDA programmes are dire. This comes at a time when the Government is asking university providers to redouble their efforts to expand and promote degree apprenticeships as a genuine alternative to a typical three-year undergraduate degree. And yet, with one stroke of the Home Secretary’s pen, one successful degree apprenticeship route for a key public sector profession has been made potentially redundant.

These institutions have invested time and effort to, among other things, design courses, hire staff to teach them, advertise them, ultimately to produce more police officers to keep communities safe. Much of that investment could now be for nothing.

Much of that investment could now be for nothing. Quote

Universities already under unprecedented financial pressure as they are squeezed on multiple fronts are less able to absorb the impact of these changes.

As with so much innovative provision, it is modern universities that have pioneered and driven the delivery of degree apprenticeships. If the slow and steady growth in demand for these courses is to be increased to Mr Halfon’s satisfaction, perhaps the place for the Government to start would be on helping to raise the profile of the apprenticeship route into higher education. They must also ensure key decisions to introduce or expand degree apprenticeships are going to be supported long-term and given the chance to embed and properly assess their impact. Thereby providers are given the confidence to invest, design and deliver innovative education and training routes at degree level.

If degree apprenticeships remain at the whim of government dictates year on year, then the ambition to grow will never be achieved. Why as a Vice-Chancellor would one look to invest in more nursing apprentices, for example, as called for the in the new NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, if the wind in Whitehall is likely to change direction and render that investment wasted?

MillionPlus universities are anchors in their regions and the engines that develop nurses, teachers, social workers, paramedics and other allied health professionals. It is key that if policymakers want to see a greater diversity in the type of higher education on offer, they must ensure joined up approaches in policymaking to avoid causing unintended damage.

Rachel Hewitt

Rachel Hewitt is the Chief Executive of MillionPlus, The Association for Modern Universities. 

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