While the total number of apprenticeships starts continues to level off, the rapid increase in enrolments for Higher Level schemes appears to be bucking this trend. According to latest government data, there were 60 000 new starts during the last nine months, well above the figure for the preceding twelve months, which at the time constituted a new record.
HLAs are comparatively new, really only getting started after 2012, yet it would be premature to draw conclusions that the Highers– available at Level 4 (first year degree level) and above, will become real alternatives to university for school and college leavers in the way that many across the political spectrum would like to think that they can.
The number of 18-year olds beginning these types of apprenticeships is very low, at 3750, less than 10% of the total. Two-thirds of starts are by over 25-year olds, invariably existing employees. Some will have progressed through lower apprenticeship levels however, particularly women in the health and social care sector.
HLAs may be increasing, but not in the ‘STEM’ areas that policy makers also like to embrace. Compared with 31,500 starts in Business and associated areas and 14,000 in Health and Social Care, there have been less than 3000 in Engineering (under 600 by 18-year olds) with just 120 in Maths and Science.