“Cyber security is absolutely a hot topic right now,” says Mark Barnett, subject area manager for computing at Weston College. “Worldwide, we will spend around £70bn on cyber security in 2017. Big organisations like banks and law firms are looking into it more and more, and that means we need skilled people to be able to interpret and work in the industry. It’s absolutely key to jobs currently.”
It is for this reason that Weston College, working in conjunction with UWE, has developed a degree apprenticeship in Digital and Technology Solutions, which will see students leaving the course with a Bachelors of Science, alongside several years of industry experience, working as an apprentice in the field. It’s one of the first degrees of its kind in the UK, and one that meets both the needs of the modern age, and the needs of young people approaching higher education.
“It’s a full degree, but it’s all very tied into the industry and potential employers,” Mark continues. “Students learn the core skills and theory that they’ll need, including programming skills and project management, but they’ll also be developing business skills and working with big organisations, from day one.”
There are many advantages to this model of learning, Mark says. “Often, retention rates are higher with students on apprenticeships, because they are embedded in an organisation, and in the industry that they want to break into, from the very start. That link between business and academia is established and only goes on to increase in value.”
The setup is beneficial for both parties: students don’t pay any tuition fees to participate in the course, and are paid a wage for the work they do as apprentices. In return, employers get a steady influx of bright new things, ready and willing to learn on the job and often feel loyal to the firm that trained them and stay on as permanent members of staff.
“It’s a high calibre opportunity that is very different to the traditional graduate pathway,” Mark says. “It essentially guarantees students a four-year job, which, in the current climate, is unheard of.”
More apprentice degrees are popping up as alternatives to the traditional higher education route, and with tuition fees prohibitively high to many prospective students, alternative options are being embraced. And it isn’t just for young people, straight out of A-levels or a college BTEC course – Mark also sees this course as an excellent opportunity for those changing careers or wishing to attain a full degree. “It’s a chance for people to upskill within organisations,” he says. “You can study without the financial worry.”
The first intake of students joined the course in September 2017, but Mark is the first to realise that over the years that the cohorts will be studying, the world will be rapidly changing around them. “It’s quite a strange thing, writing a course for ideas and technology that sometimes does not even exist yet. But it’s a great challenge. It really does feel like we are at the forefront of some exciting stuff.”