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Blog: 4 ways we've adapted our degree apprenticeship under the coronavirus

Degree apprentice at tablet









It's become a bit of a cliché to talk about ‘unprecedented times’ but there’s no hiding from the fact that most of us have experienced significant change in our lives over the past twelve weeks.

Apprenticeship Programme Delivery Manager Rhys Daniels take a look at how the coronavirus has changed how we're delivering degree apprenticeships in Wales.


The lockdown has taught us many things about our degree apprentices, as well as their employers and roles. They have adapted to homeworking incredibly well; they are resilient, and they have continued to progress their studies in the face of numerous challenges. Most degree apprentices have been able to pivot to homeworking easily and while nothing is business as usual now, they’ve remained productive.

Like all work-based learning providers, The OU in Wales has made changes to make sure we have continuity for our degree apprentices, so here are four ways we’ve adapted our degree apprenticeship offer:

1. Moving fully online

The OU has developed a strong degree apprenticeship model by blending academic and work-based learning modules. In addition to apprentices accessing high quality academic knowledge, they have opportunities to implement that learning into the workplace while completing credit bearing work-based learning modules, which aren’t accessible to non-apprentices with the OU.

Another element which differentiates a degree apprenticeship from ‘regular’ OU study is the level of support degree apprentices receive. Practice Tutors play an integral role in supporting degree apprentices on their learning journey and part of this support occurs face to face and on the employer’s premises.

The OU moved all apprenticeship delivery fully online in March and has recently announced that no face to face tuition will take place until at least January 2021. As experts in flexible, distance learning, the transition has been a success, particularly as the Practice Tutors are also module tutors on other OU programmes and are experienced with remote delivery via module sites, Adobe Connect and other messaging software.

2. Increasing support for apprentices and employers

Being specialists in distance tuition has helped us navigate lockdown and keep apprentices progressing. The OU in Wales has worked hard to try and provide some normality for our degree apprentices, but we’re not immune to the uncertainty facing our customers and face the same risks to our provision as anyone.

Practice Tutors have done an excellent job increasing engagement with degree apprentices and have adapted to fit their individual needs. Degree apprentices who may be struggling due to access to technology have been pointed towards The OU’s Covid-19 Student Assistance Fund, which provides OU students financial assistance to enable them to continue studying and support living costs.

The OU in Wales has employers of all types and sizes in each region of the country. These employers, as well as those in our pipeline for next academic year, are vital to not only our degree apprentices but the future of the economy. As well as receiving fortnightly updates on degree apprenticeships, we have encouraged employers to access free online resources via OpenLearn to develop their staff. This can help with refreshing existing knowledge, developing new skills or supporting the mental health of employers and their staff during a difficult period.

3. Being clear and consistent

Existing employers and degree apprentices ‘signed up’ for a service and that service has now changed. The latest degree apprentices started only a month before lockdown and our other two cohorts had become familiar with the delivery model having been on programme for between five and twelve months.

The OU in Wales’ plan has been to try to position ourselves as something consistent in a period where things are anything but. To achieve this, we acted promptly to understand the parameters and flexibilities we can achieve with stakeholders, including the School of Computing and Communications and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), our funding body and proceeded to communicate these frequently to employers.

Current and pipeline employers have received fortnightly updates on any changes and plans, while degree apprentices have seen an increase in frequency of tutor engagement to include additional pastoral support on top of support for their degree apprenticeship.

4. Securing recruitment plans for 2020/21 academic year

Apprenticeships at all levels are open for business and The OU in Wales received notification last week that we have secured the places we requested for next academic year.

Throughout lockdown we have adjusted our registration process to ensure all elements can now be completed remotely, as well as our on-going progress review paperwork and work-based learning support.

There remain opportunities for employers to use the degree apprenticeship to recruit new talent into their businesses, or re-skill existing staff to plug skill gaps.

Trying to plan for the ‘new normal’ (another cliché, sorry) is going to be a significant challenge for employers as lockdown begins to ease and the impact on Wales’ regional and national economy becomes evident. One thing that’s certain is the need for apprenticeships at all levels to remain open and offer flexible solutions to support economic recovery and to continue to develop the skills industries and people need to retain employment.

Find out more about the OU in Wales' Degree Apprenticeship and free learning for you and your organisation.

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