Monday, March 26, 2018

Degree apprenticeships - overview

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has begun a series of consultations which will lead to reviews of the NZ qualifications system. The first one is on microcredentials and I overviewed some of the definitions and implications on this blog a few weeks ago.

Another initiative may be the concept of degree apprenticeships i.e. a degree qualification completed primarily through workplace based learning. Degree apprenticeship is not a new concept but have undergone a recent revival, particularly in the United Kingdom. At the INAP conference in Washington DC late last year, there was a large contigent from Ireland, presenting on their first roll out of their degree apprenticeship, situated within the insurance industry context.

The revival of qualifications completed through a 'learn while you earn' system, is a response to the increased costs of degree qualification completions. Especially given there is evidence to suggest that the payback via completing a traditional apprenticeship in the trades / technology provides similar economic gains to degree completion - see this report for NZ perspective.

In NZ, the engineering industry, has had major challenges finding sufficiently skilled and qualified engineers, especially at the 'technician' level which supports engineers with technical support and expertise. A pilot study, undertaken by Massey University suggested good returns for both industry and individuals. Findings were also presented at last years NZ Vocational Education Research forum by Professor Jenny Poskitt.

The main advantages of situated, authentic learning apply for study whilst working. Many people complete degrees through part-time study which provides similar opportunities. However, workplace learning has always had inherent challenges. There is a large corpus of literature on how to ameliorate the issues and to support practice-based learning in busy workplaces. So, simply doing small tweaks to institute based / structured and designed learning curriculum, does not perhaps deliver the best opportunities for learners or to industry. There is a need for innovative design of learning to encourage the development of important 'soft' skills and most importantly, the skill to be able to learn/ relearn continually to keep pace with the rapid change many industries are experiencing.

Therefore, as always, important to look clearly at what is expected of a graduate who has been accredited a qualification. How can many of the graduate profile outcomes be met through 'naturally occurring evidence' of learning and how can rigour be assured, especially when it comes to 'knowledge' when workplaces each have their own, idiosyncratic 'learning curriculum' best suited to their own needs.

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