Exclusive: nursing degree apprenticeships stalled by education changes and funding

Only 30 nurse apprentices will begin university courses this September, well below the 1,000 a year predicted by the government, in a delay caused by funding issues and changes in education standards.

Only 30 nurse apprentices will begin university courses this September, well below the 1,000 a year predicted by the government, in a delay caused by funding issues and changes in education standards

Only one of seven universities linked with the nursing degree apprenticeships
will start courses in September. Picture: iStock

Just 30 nurse apprentices are due to begin university courses in September, a figure that falls far short of the 1,000 a year predicted by the government once the scheme is fully established.

Funding issues and a radical overhaul of education standards are causing universities to delay beginning to run the new nursing degree apprenticeships, the RCN says.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt unveiled the paid training role last November, championing it as a way of helping healthcare assistants and others reach their potential as a fully trained nurse from September this year.

Once fully established, the Department of Health (DH) expects the scheme to accept up to 1,000 apprentices a year – who will receive an annual salary of roughly £16,968 to £19,852 – to undergo the four-year part-time courses.


the number of nursing apprentices the Department of Health eventually wants to see trained per year.

But a Nursing Standard investigation shows that only Anglia Ruskin University appears to be running the course in September, with about 30 apprentices.

The scheme allows employers to access government funding, known as the national apprenticeship levy, to pay universities to educate staff who may not have the further education qualifications such as A Levels usually required to apply for a nursing degree course.

Universities decide if they wish to offer a programme and employers agree to let staff apply.

To graduate, apprentice nurses must meet the same Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) requirements as those who have taken the traditional degree route, including required placement and academic hours.

‘Employers are also struggling to get to grips with the apprenticeship levy and how best to use it’

Gary Kirwan, RCN senior employment relations adviser

They must also pass an end-point assessment, a government requirement for all apprentices.

So why the slow start?

RCN senior employment relations adviser Gary Kirwan tells Nursing Standard: ‘The reality is that there will only be a small number of apprenticeships on offer in September 2017.’

He says part of the reason is that universities are waiting to see the results of the NMC’s radical overall of education standards. A consultation into the draft standards ends next month and the NMC is expected to give feedback in January.

‘Employers are also struggling to get to grips with the apprenticeship levy and how best to use it,’ Mr Kirwan adds.


the approximate number of apprentices starting a course this year.

‘In addition, there is no new money to support apprenticeships in the NHS.’

The levy is a pot of money paid into by large employers – those with an annual wage bill of £3 million or more – to cover the cost of apprenticeship training, including tuition fees. Smaller businesses can recover 90% of training costs.

The funding issue also raises concerns over placements for nursing degree apprenticeships.

Who will manage and fund placements is still under consideration, Health Education England tells Nursing Standard.

‘This has not been well thought through’

Anne-Marie Rafferty, professor of nursing policy, King's College London

As it stands, universities will not receive funding beyond tuition fees, and a report by the Council of Deans of Health, which represents university nursing faculties, says the issue of funding raises questions about how employers will manage to ensure apprentices have exposure to a variety of working environments.

The council’s executive director Katerina Kolyva warns: 'New routes into the professions, such as nursing associates and apprenticeships, can create new opportunities but draw on the same resources in terms of educators and placement capacity as degree programmes.'

Anne-Marie Rafferty, professor of nursing policy at King’s College London, echoes such concerns, saying mentors are already stretched.

Commenting on the small number of apprentices starting this year, she says: 'I think this is symptomatic. This has not been well thought through.'


nurse shortage in England estimated by the RCN.

'Announcing policies without preparing the ground first raises some serious questions about the implementation timescale.'

In November last year the Health Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) published a list of universities given access to a two-year fund to deliver higher-education apprenticeships, including nursing degree apprenticeships.

Nursing Standard contacted each to learn when nursing courses would start.

Of those listed, the University of Derby says it will run a course starting in March 2018 and the University of Greenwich says it will do so in September 2018.

The University of Sunderland says it is 'working to shape out a nursing programme that will help form the future nursing workforce and meet NMC standards', while the University of Gloucestershire is awaiting validation from the NMC.

One of seven

The University of Northampton, although not listed by HEFCE, said it plans to create a course and Anglia Ruskin University, also not listed, will train 30 apprentices from next month, running the course at its campuses in Cambridge, Chelmsford and Peterborough.

Buckinghamshire New University was granted funding but was not originally linked with nursing. Its head of school for pre-qualifying nursing and vocational healthcare, Karen Buckwell-Nutt, tells Nursing Standard: 'We are currently carrying out major modification in accordance with NMC requirements on our BSc Hons Nursing, so it is ready for apprenticeship delivery from February 2018.

'Then, following the launch of the new nursing standards and education framework due next year, the Bucks degree apprenticeship in nursing will be revalidated for September 2019.'

It means only one of the seven universities now linked with the degree will start courses in September.

The University of Derby’s head of pre-qualification healthcare Denise Baker explains there was only a short time between the initial announcement, getting NMC approval and ensuring recruitment was done correctly.


yearly tuition fees charged for traditional undergraduate nursing degrees at Anglia Ruskin University from September. Apprentices will not pay these.

‘We wanted to go through the proper process and make sure we recruit the right people,’ she says.

‘We didn’t want to rush that. This is four years we are committing them to, so it’s important to get everything in place.’

Contrary to the health secretary’s comments, Ms Baker says the university will not be lowering entry requirements just because it is an apprenticeship, and entrants will need to meet the same academic criteria as those on the traditional degree course.

The university currently requires grades of two BBs and a C at A Level or access qualifications such as a National Vocational Qualification Level 3 in health and social care, alongside five GCSEs.

Ms Baker adds: ‘We think it important that we don’t set people up to fail.'

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