Why we should be supporting both apprenticeships and traditional degrees - Sambit Sen

For far too long there has been a debate raging in post-16 education over how best our education system can help young people into work. We see it crop up in politics, the media, our local pubs and sometimes within our own family, as arguments fly over whether our education system is doing what it needs to do to put people on a path to a rewarding career.

This debate, like any debate, is often two sided with one camp calling for more young people to be given apprenticeships while the other champions university education and all the benefits that can bring to people’s lives and careers. Many who make these arguments often call for the expansion of one and the scale-back of the other.

But why does it have to be like this? Why are we only allowed to support one of these forms of education? We should be supporting both apprenticeships and traditional degrees if our education system is to flourish and work for everyone.

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This week is National Apprenticeship Week and at the University of Sheffield we want to highlight how vital these programmes are for the UK’s education system. We are a Russell Group university that teaches traditional degrees, but we are also a provider of apprenticeship programmes and we believe this combination of the two is hugely important for our region and the rest of the country.

The University of Sheffield's AMRC welcoming students from Rotherham to an event.The University of Sheffield's AMRC welcoming students from Rotherham to an event.
The University of Sheffield's AMRC welcoming students from Rotherham to an event.

While traditional degrees are developing the knowledge and skills for the jobs of tomorrow, apprenticeships allow employers to meet the skills and knowledge gaps of today.

At Sheffield, our apprenticeship programmes are well established and successful. We train apprentices for the NHS in our School of Allied Health Professions, Nursing and Midwifery. These courses enable apprentices to make a major contribution to frontline NHS services by applying the University’s latest pioneering health research to their practice and developing the leadership and problem-solving skills to practise safely and effectively.

This year is the 10th anniversary of engineering apprentices being trained at our AMRC Training Centre. Drawing on the expertise of our Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) - the hugely successful R&D facility that has set a new standard for academic and industry collaboration - the AMRC Training Centre is creating a new generation of engineers who are skilled in areas such as welding, automation and controls engineering, composites, toolmaking, mechanical manufacture and nuclear manufacturing.

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These are all skills that are vital to industries in South Yorkshire and across the UK and allow apprentices to make a key difference in closing the skills gap now.

It is not just apprenticeships that are developed and delivered in collaboration with industry. At Sheffield, our traditional degree programmes have strong links with industry and this helps us to shape our university education so our students graduate with the skills they need to forge fulfilling careers.

Apprenticeships and traditional degrees are designed to be different. They are helping businesses and industries address different challenges. They are also helping people develop a career in a way that suits their own individual goals and circumstances and this is why it is so crucial that we champion both forms of education.

Sambit Sen is director of apprenticeships at the University of Sheffield.

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