Executive apprentice courses hit by fee delays

The Financial Times

Hundreds of senior executives starting business degrees in the new year will be unable to pay their tuition fees from a UK tax secured from their employers because officials have yet to finalise what course costs will be covered by the arrangements. Business schools had welcomed Britain’s apprenticeship levy as a way of injecting new life into higher education by encouraging companies to spend the money they must set aside for training on leadership courses for executives. However they have been frustrated by the slow movement of the Institute for Apprenticeships, an agency set up by the Department for Education to set the fee levels that apprenticeship course providers including business schools can charge. The government established the apprenticeship levy in April, setting a goal of creating 3m apprenticeships by 2020 in the public and private sectors as part of efforts to improve the UK’s poor productivity record. Any company or public sector body whose salary bill exceeds £3m has to pay the levy, which is a 0.5 per cent tax on their payroll, and they then claim vouchers from the government to spend on courses for their apprentices. The IFA has told business schools it will not approve the amount they can charge for master’s degrees eligible for levy funding until the end of January, five months later than planned. Schools must now either delay their course launch dates or find other ways to get companies to pay for classes that have already started. The Chartered Management Institute, which has signed up 902 senior executives from 124 companies to start master’s degrees based on levy funding in the new year, condemned the IFA delay for hitting the budgets of both business schools and the companies they serve. “While the government champions the apprenticeship levy to transform professional skills development, the bureaucratic wheels are grinding to a halt,” said Petra Wilson, CMI director of strategy. The IFA said it did not comment on timescales for approving arrangements for master’s degrees based on levy funding. “We are committed to ensuring that all standards are developed as quickly as possible while still meeting our quality criteria,” it added. Some business schools have delayed the launch of their master’s degrees based on levy funding until they know when companies can begin paying for them from the tax. Among them is Manchester Metropolitan University, which was planning to start some of its courses in January, said Liz Gorb, director of apprenticeships. “What we are worried about is losing the goodwill of employers,” added Ms Gorb. “At the moment they are being incredibly understanding but how long can that go on for? ”In October Cranfield University’s School of Management started a masters degree in business administration for executives that they is supposed to be reliant on levy funding. Cranfield has 61 students out of a class of 67 who signed up with the intention of paying tuition fees using levy money, but have as yet been unable to do so. A second group of 130 students are due to start in January, and 90 of these applications were based on levy money. Executives already on the course will be able to continue their studies but will not be able to pay using levy money, and may now have to wait longer to complete their qualifications, said Lynette Ryals, Cranfield’s pro-vice-chancellor for education. “We are keen for this longstanding issue to be resolved so that we can all have certainty and get on with the job of providing the management training that the UK desperately needs,” she said.