Only 17% of Degree Apprentices are women, report finds

Published 27/11/2020   |   Last Updated 27/11/2020

​A report launching today from the Senedd's Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee points to a stark lack of diversity amongst Degree Apprenticeship students.

The Committee launched an inquiry early in the year into the progress of the Welsh Government's degree apprenticeships pilot, which began in the academic year 2018/2019.

In evidence it received, the Committee heard how the pilot was structurally biased towards creating a gender imbalance, because of the focus on traditionally male-dominated sectors, and secondly that employers largely manage the recruitment of degree apprentices in the same way that they manage their wider recruitment meaning the imbalance that exists in the general workforce is not addressed in the degree apprenticeship intake.

Read the Degree Apprenticeships report here 

Colegau Cymru told the Committee that it was not clear what, if any, specific initiatives were undertaken to try to achieve any element of gender balance, and "if any such initiatives were undertaken, they have not worked well."

Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) have provided statistics showing the personal characteristics of those involved in the pilot. Figures for the 380 new and continuing apprentices for academic year 2019/20 include:

  • 17% female;

  • 7% with a declared a disability;

  • 3% from black and minority ethnic groups;

The Committee is recommending that the Welsh Government develops a strategy for widening access to degree apprenticeships for under-represented groups. 

A wider range of subjects

At present the pilot is limited to two areas - digital, and engineering and advanced manufacturing - so opportunities for higher level progression in other areas such as health and social care or business and management are currently lacking. The Committee heard clear and widespread support for a broadening of the range of degree apprenticeships offered.

The Committee is recommending that the Welsh Government, through the Wales Advisory Apprenticeship Board, consider broadening the range of degree apprenticeships available by supporting, funding and enabling the development of new degree apprenticeships that are not delivered using public funding and where there is an appetite from employers.

Ensuring bilingualism

The Committee heard evidence from the Welsh Language Commissioner, who pointed to the lack of Welsh-medium provision and need for more data. This is a general issue for apprenticeships, and the Commissioner said it was also likely to be relevant to degree apprenticeships. The Commissioner said that beyond the 15% of Welsh speakers studying degree apprenticeships, there was insufficient information about the extent to which they were completing the apprenticeships through the medium of Welsh, and therefore maintaining and developing their Welsh language skills.

The Committee is recommending that the Welsh Government set out how it will address concerns about ensuring degree apprenticeships fully consider the Welsh language and bilingualism, and collect adequate data about degree apprenticeships completed in the medium of Welsh.

"COVID-19 has obviously had a severe impact on the Welsh economy and degree apprenticeships could be a tool in helping with our recovery.

"Despite some teething problems, the experience of those involved in the degree apprenticeships pilot seemed overwhelmingly positive, with significant demand for a wider apprenticeship offer.

"We do however have some concerns and recommendations for improvements. It is essential that if this pilot is to be expanded then there has to be some action to address the stark gender inequality in those taking up degree apprenticeships – the Welsh Government must widen access to degree apprenticeships for under-represented groups.

"It is also obvious from what we have heard, that there is demand and need for broadening the types of degree apprenticeships available." - Russell George MS, chair of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee

Natasha Davies, Policy and Research Lead at Chwarae Teg added:

"This latest report from the EIS Committee includes a very welcome focus on the gender imbalance seen in degree apprenticeships. Apprenticeships remain notably segregated at all levels on the basis of gender, but are an increasingly important route into work. It's therefore imperative that steps are taken to redress the balance.

"The Committee has rightly highlighted how the focus on digital and engineering and manufacturing has contributed to the lack of women entering degree level apprenticeships. In the future, adopting an equalities mainstreaming approach as recommended in the Gender Equality Review, could help Welsh Government identify these kinds of unequitable outcomes during policy development and ensure that mitigating action is taken from the outset. 

"To address the issues identified with current degree apprenticeship provision, we need to see initiatives that focus on improving the proportion of women entering careers in digital and engineering and manufacturing, which we know offer good career progression opportunities. Placing stretching targets on apprenticeships providers could be an important part of the solution. Chwarae Teg also welcomes recommendations to expand degree apprenticeships into other sectors. In female dominated sectors where progression is challenging, such as childcare and social care, degree apprenticeships could provide an important progression pathway for women, while also challenging the misconception of these sectors as being low-skilled." - Natasha Davies, Policy and Research Lead at Chwarae Teg

Degree Apprenticeships report