Today’s Education in the Media blog looks at our aim to widen university access as well as the annual apprenticeship statistics and the issue of essay mills.
Today, Friday 7 December, the Sutton Trust has published analysis of the latest UCAS data on university access. This has been covered by BBC Online, the Independent, the Guardian, the I News, the Times and the Mail.
While there is still work to do in order to close the disadvantage gap, there has been promising and steady progress. The latest figures show that there are record rates of 18 year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds going on to attend university, and 19.7% of 18 year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas were accepted onto courses in September – up 0.4% from last year.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:
Whilst potential and talent is evenly spread, the opportunities to make the most of it sometimes aren’t. Recent data shows progress has been made for disadvantaged students going to university, there is still a long way to go.
I want universities to work with us, consider the data carefully and look at their own admissions policies to work out what can be done to ensure that their university is open to everyone who has the potential, no matter their background or where they are from.
I want to see how universities are tackling this issue, and we now require them to publish offer and acceptance rates by gender, ethnicity and social background so the OfS can take action if needed to drive improvements in access. I am also interested in seeing the rates of successful completion and then employment and how they vary by university. I expect the regulator to shine a light on those not stepping up, and want to see it using the full range of levers at their disposal if necessary.
Today, Friday 7 December, the Times has published a story on apprenticeship levy spend on higher level apprenticeships. This comes after the publication of the apprenticeship and levy statistics for the academic year 2017/18.
In response to feedback, we have made the levy more flexible by introducing transfers in April 2018, allowing levy-paying organisations to transfer up to 10% of the annual value of funds entering their apprenticeship service account to other employers. This is set to increase to 25% from April 2019.
To meet our high-quality criteria, employers must show at least 12 months in a recognised occupation as defined by the IfA, with substantial training of which at least 20% is off-the-job.
Regarding the latest statistics, the new figures for 2017/18 show that there has been an increase of 139,000 apprenticeships on the new high-quality standards, as opposed to the old style apprenticeships. These new standards are designed with employability in mind and present a higher level of tailored learning.
Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton said:
It’s fantastic to see that the latest figures show the number of people starting on our higher quality apprenticeships has shot up by 139,100 compared to last year. This is good news and really highlights how employers up and down the country are embracing the huge benefits apprentices are bringing to their business.
Overall the number of people starting on lower level apprenticeships accounts for almost 90% (327,600) of all apprenticeship starts. We want to make sure all these people have the chance to progress to however far they want to go.
Our apprenticeship programme was designed specifically to be employer driven. It is employers and not government that are designing and creating the high quality apprenticeships they need to for their business. Furthermore, as long as employers are using government-approved apprenticeships which meet our high quality criteria they are free to spend their levy funds on the training programmes that best meet their needs.
Yesterday, Thursday 6 December, BBC Radio 4’s PM programme ran a story about essay mills. This refers to companies who sell essay-writing services to students.
A Department for Education spokesperson said:
We have been clear that these services are a black market for students, they exploit vulnerable young people and attempt to undermine the quality of our degrees. University is all about learning and applying knowledge to a high standard, and everyone involved in this practice, whether it’s social media influencers, social media websites or students, should cut their ties with these services immediately.
We welcome the action that was taken by YouTube to remove videos promoting cheating in response to the BBC’s investigation, and we expect this to continue.
Universities should also be taking steps to tackle this issue, by investing in detection software and educating students of the severe consequences they face if caught cheating. The OfS will take tough action if they fail to do so.