‘Elite’ apprentices to close skills gap

Prof Sir Keith Burnett, vice chancellor of Sheffield University Sheffield, with apprentice Rebecca Taylor during a visit to the AMRC Training Centre.
Prof Sir Keith Burnett, vice chancellor of Sheffield University Sheffield, with apprentice Rebecca Taylor during a visit to the AMRC Training Centre.

The head of Sheffield University has published a vision for 40,000 ‘elite’ apprenticeships - to help the country “race for the top” in the 21st century.

Prof Sir Keith Burnett is calling for universities to shift their approach and work with leading companies on a new kind of apprenticeship that blends academia and industrial experience - which he says is vital to a rebalanced economy.

And he has urged politicians, who are considering their commitment to higher education ahead of a general election, to embrace the plans.

The vision is set out in a report called the Future of Higher Vocational Education, produced with his counterpart at Warwick University, Sir Nigel Thrift, which has close ties with Jaguar Land Rover.

Last year, Sheffield University opened the AMRC Training Centre to 250 fully-funded apprentices working for firms including Tata Steel, Rolls-Royce and Forgemasters. Numbers have since risen to more than 400.

A clear majority now intend to take a degree, Sir Keith added.

He said: “If the UK wishes to rebalance its economy and boost manufacturing from 10 per cent of GDP to the 22 per cent found in Germany, it needs more high-quality engineers of the kind that industry craves.

“This report sets out or vision for ‘elite’ vocational education in the UK in which apprentieships achieve the same status as degrees.

“We are confident that this is possible because we are already doing it.

“These young people have succeeded beyond all expectations and are seen by companies such as Rolls Royce and Boeing as world-leading.”

Other universities were interested, if the qulaity was high enough, he added.

The UK needs 830,000 new engineers over the next eight years to replace workers reaching retirement, the report states. More than two thirds of civil nuclear workers will retire in the next decade and 31 per cent of advanced manufacturing firms import foreign labour.

Average graduate debt under tuition fees is set to be £44,000 while more than 750,000 young people in the UK are unemployed.

Sir Keith said leaders of elite