Degree Apprenticeship funding cuts: a massive own-goal

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You may have seen our previous posts on degree apprenticeships and why they are the most positive step in addressing the skills shortage for our business and for the software industry in general. We have promoted degree apprenticeships tirelessly and along with the University of Chichester, who developed a degree apprenticeship program in Software Engineering, have recruited employers and students to take part in this program.

So you can imagine our incredulity when we heard that all funding has just been cut to the degree apprenticeship providers in this region. I don’t mean reduced a bit I mean cut completely! Given the widely acknowledged skills shortage in computer sciences (as outlined in the government-commissioned Shadbolt Review) I am left thinking that this is the worst case of non-joined-up government thinking ever. Two of the ten pillars of the government’s industrial strategy are “Skills” and “Technology/Innovation”. Surely in this world of automation, disruption and productivity, a degree apprenticeship in software engineering is the very embodiment of an initiative the government would fund.

Burying bad news

The bad news was announced just before Christmas. The cynics amongst us would suggest that the government was trying to bury it in the pre-Christmas party season and just after the Brexit negotiations were all over the media. Well, we all spotted it and have been campaigning since to get this decision reversed. There are many casualties in these cuts but the damage to our business and to tech businesses across our region are forcing me onto my soapbox.

The funding hits non-levy paying companies, which make up the majority in this region, and the majority of universities supporting the courses affected. Without funding, there is a serious possibility that the course we support – and which provides us with much needed talent – will end, cutting off a major skills pipeline for us. This begs the question of what the ESFA and government expect us (and others) to do now. Do we simply stop growing or shrink? Open up a satellite business outside the region or even overseas? Those options are not what we or our partners and customers want.

Whatever we decide to do the effect on us will be slowing or stalling growth and lower profitability. Is that in any way in line with the needs of the country in these times of Brexit? Is this policy in anyway in line with the government’s own initiatives and drive for growth and profitability? The answer has to be a resounding ‘no’. These cuts are all the more nonsensical since the government has recently been loudly announcing that the UK is the world’s best prepared country for high-tech industries. Cutting off the source of training for these industries in this way is, frankly, a massive own-goal.

Last month I met with my local MP and have today been interviewed by the BBC on the subject. This is such an important issue, to us and to the many other businesses we regularly meet who will also suffer as a result of these cuts, that I will continue to escalate opposition until something changes.


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