Foundation degrees pose a threat to apprentices

Foundation degrees, the Government’s latest vocational training initiative,
could undermine its plans to increase the number of Modern Apprenticeships.

Airline KLM has been running an apprenticeship programme for 20 years,
employing between eight and 10 apprentices a year. But this year it has
abandoned the apprenticeship scheme in favour of a foundation degree in
aircraft engineering.

"We have had to plough all our resources this year into getting the
foundation degree off the ground," says Sue Ogden training and development
officer with KLM. "We’ve got the potential to run both the degree course
and an apprenticeship scheme but there would be little point in running our old
apprenticeship programme because in essence it’s the same course as the
foundation degree."

The aircraft maintenance course is one of 69 foundation degree courses on
offer this year. It has been developed in conjunction with Kingston University
and also leads to a professional qualification. It has attracted 56 students in
its first year, who will be paying their own way, like other university
students.

Once they have completed the two-year foundation degree, students will have
the option to stay on for a third year and convert it to an honours degree.

Mike Cannell , policy adviser with the CIPD, predicts that foundation
degrees could replace Modern Apprenticeships in other traditional industries
too.

"Foundation degrees seem to be offering a qualification equivalent to
an NVQ Level 4. In practice, this is what most advanced Modern Apprenticeships
are also offering," he said.

"Although newer industries such as IT do perhaps need the
technician-type qualifications that foundation degrees could provide,
superficially, foundation degrees don’t seem to be offering anything new to
vocational training."

Rather than create a whole new tier of qualifications, Cannell said the
Government should be looking at ways of enabling modern apprentices to convert
their qualification to an honours degree just as foundation degree students
will be able to.

However, both the NTO National Council and the Department for Skills and
Education insist that foundation degrees will fill a gap in the system by enabling
young people to progress from the shop floor to senior management.

"The foundation degree is a slightly higher level qualification and
advanced Modern Apprenticeships are being developed under the DfES as a route
into foundation degrees," said Adrian Anderson, director of policy and
development for the NTO National Council.

"Modern Apprenticeships will remain a way of enabling employers to
recruit 16-, to 18-year-olds."

By Lucie Carrington

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