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UALL Work and Learning Network: Network News: October 2020

UALL Work and Learning Network: Network News: October 2020

Welcome to the October edition of the newsletter.

September went by very quickly and was a busy month for further and higher education practitioners returning to the new academic year 2020-2021.  There have been updates to read and training to fit in about online communication technology as well as safeguarding. October will likely be as busy as September.

Our spotlight this month is an inspirational and thought provoking contribution from Sue Graham at Northumbria about work-based learning policy and the apprenticeship debate.

Editorial: New beginnings 

In September many of us have reopened our buildings but continue to provide much of our delivery online. I hope October will be a good month to reflect on the importance of consolidating our expertise and sharing practice through digital networking.

Sue Graham’s spotlight shows the significance of having a principled approach to practice. I saw Sue present at the 2019  UVAC conference and was impressed by her message, especially concerning the continuation of a long tradition of work-based studies. I continue to follow Sue’s twitter feed that highlights her activity within the North East region

Paula Nottingham

Spotlight: Sue Graham, Northumbria University

Sue Graham on work-based learning policy and the apprenticeship debate.

Colleagues that have been involved in work-based learning for a good while (and I count myself in that select group) will remember the heady days of the Leitch Review published in 2006 which promised to upend the status quo and offered so much for adult education for what seemed like the distant future of 2020. (Spoiler - we have arrived and what a year it has been!). The Review stated that in 2006 ‘70% of the 2020 English workforce has already left compulsory education’ (Leitch, 2006; p.1), thus clearly focusing efforts to upskill the existing workforce as much as provide training for those entering the workforce. This theme was picked up in the 2012 Richard Review of Apprenticeships which stated: Improving the skills of someone already doing a job (or ‘upskilling’) is valuable and may well be something the Government wishes to support in other ways. Accreditation, for individuals who want their existing skills recognised, is also beneficial. But these activities are not apprenticeships. (Richard, 2012; p.33) While the policy intention is clear that the levy and the Richard reforms are for apprentices ‘irrespective of age’, this has become a point of contestation with some finding that there is too much delivery of the level 6 and 7 higher and degree apprenticeships for those already in employment (upskilling) with a view that while this may be acceptable within the letter of the law, it is not true to its spirit. Richard talked about how ‘the success of our society is, in part, measured on its capacity to shepherd our young people from childhood to meaningful employment’. (Richard, 2012; p.3), while the government’s initial position was that existing employees should only be able to access apprenticeships where substantial training is required to achieve competency in their occupation’ (HM Government, 2013; p.25). This has led to a number of contested positions. Some involved wish apprenticeships to be focused only on younger school-leavers at lower levels, while others more focused on lifelong learning, argued that apprenticeship can be appropriate ‘at any age when people move into a new role, sector or change career entirely’ (Richard, 2012; p.105). Many see universities offering high level programmes under the apprenticeship scheme as simply rebadged professional development, especially in relation to leadership and management programmes. The justification put forward for this is a lack of leadership and management skills which has been identified as affecting productivity in UK with poor management skills potentially accounting ‘for a quarter of the productivity gap between the UK and the US’ (HM Government, 2017; p.169). This has opened a debate as to whether this should be addressed through apprenticeships or another mechanism. The debate about ‘upskilling’ is an old one that being rerun here in a new context. Tight talks about ‘St Matthew’s law of access and participation’ (1998; p.258) in the context of lifelong learning and education –i.e. that more learning opportunities shall be awarded to those who are already in a position of advantage and some would argue that some higher, and particularly degree apprenticeships have been a further example of this. Apprenticeship policy allows for those already in employment to access programmes, but a view was expressed by those outside the HE sector that this is not within the spirit of the policy. Universities –like other rational economic organisations and actors –will act in their own interests. This has led to a clear area of tension –while the lack of leadership and management skills are identified as affecting productivity in the UK, should these be addressed through apprenticeships or other mechanisms? It is possible that this area of contestation will result in a redefining of what an apprenticeship is for the new era, which will take time, or may result in a retrenchment by government away from programmes which could be classed as largely in the scope of professional development.  Judging by the reaction to the latest announcements from the Prime Minister (Prime Minister’s Office, 2020) is that the arguments and debates about lifelong learning, adult education, skills, work-based learning, training, professional development and apprenticeships (and any other terminology you may like to add in) will run and run.  HM Government (2017). Industrial Strategy - Building a Britain fit for the future. HMSO. HM Government. (2013). The Future of Apprenticeships in England: Implementation Plan [Online]. London. Available: [Accessed 2013]. Leitch, S. (2006). Leitch Review of Skills, Prosperity for all in the global economy - world class skills [Online]. Norwich  Available: [Accessed  2020]. Prime Minister’s Office. (2020) Lifetime Skills Guarantee Available online: [Accessed Sept 2020] Richard, D. (2012). The Richard Review of Apprenticeships [Online]. online: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Available:[Accessed April 10th 2017 2017]. Tight, M. (1998). Lifelong learning: Opportunity or compulsion?, British Journal of Educational Studies, 46, 251-263.

Featured Follows

This month we turn our attention to sources concerning Work Placements. Work Placements

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which has some great information about professional learning in the workplace

ASET, a membership-focussed organisation serving Higher Education Institution staff who deal with placements and other forms of Work Based Learning.

Prospects, which provides information regarding COVID-19 and internships.

Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, which provides information about the postgraduate teaching apprenticeship.

Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, a one stop shop for the new apprenticeship standards.

They have dedicated pages for the following:

Academic Professional Link Here Teacher Link Here Civil Engineer Link Here Registered Nurse (RN) Degree Apprentices and Nursing Associate (NA) Apprentices Link Here

This October, we also look towards sources that define the importance of Black History Month to higher education.

Black History Month in Higher Education Black History Month – Higher Education Careers Black History Month – The office for students SOAS – Black History Month - SOAS are providing a varied programme of [free] events about the black contributions to British Society this October. The Guardian – Celebrating the success of black history month

Recent publications

A paper with a Worldwide Bibliometric of Work-Based Learning Research indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection that found Middlesex University as one of 2 leading organisations producing knowledge on work-based learning in the world over last 30 years. A research report on apprenticeships Creating institutional conditions for sustainable degree apprenticeships (2019-2020) Professor Darryll Bravenboer led a Middlesex University consortium of Sheffield Hallam, Staffordshire Universities and UVAC


Event details from the Society for Research into Higher Educations Digital Technology and the Post-Pandemic University Wednesday, 21 October 2020 This online conference by the Society for Research into Higher Education’s Digital University Network inquires into the ‘new normal’ we face in higher education, as well as the role which digital technology has and will play in bringing it about. It is clear that digital technology will be essential to teaching, research and administration under these conditions but it is far less obvious what this will look like in practice. Furthermore, the online pivot is being undertaken at such speed and under such difficult conditions that strategic considerations risk being subordinated to the imperative of keeping the university operating at a distance. 

Keynote Address: Dr. Ben Williamson, The Cloud Campus with a Cyborg Centre Chancellor’s Fellow at the Centre for Research in Digital Education  and the Edinburgh Futures Institute at University of Edinburgh

Register Here

We would like to hear about your experiences with your practice, peer groups, research, online conferences and twitter feeds. There seems to be a lot of regional and local activity as we continue with the worldwide Covid-19 lockdown here in the United Kingdom. The world has gone virtual and the true meaning of ‘digital’ is coming into being.


UALL Work and Learning Network

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