Degree apprenticeships allow existing or new employees to study for a university-level qualification whilst working full time, developing real-world applied skills and knowledge in the workplace. 

From chartered management to forestry, nursing to project management, the University of Cumbria collaborates with a wide range of employers to co-design and deliver degree apprenticeships. Currently there are 1,630 students who are enrolled directly on 12 work-based apprenticeship programmes across three sectors, being taught wherever they are based in the country, not just Cumbria. Last year 142 apprentices completed their courses with a 100 per cent pass rate.  

The university is a partner in the Police Education Consortium, providing degree-level entry routes into policing for new recruits to Surrey, Sussex, and Hampshire Constabularies. It also offers apprenticeships to the majority of England’s ambulance trusts, enabling existing employees to upskill and become paramedics.  

Through its Institute of Business, Industry and Leadership working closely with Sellafield Ltd, BAE Systems, the NHS, BBC, Rolls Royce and over 100 other employers, the university delivers a range of project management programmes and courses. These include degree-level apprenticeships and a number accredited by the Association for Project Management (APM). 

In 2022 the university’s Chartered Management Degree Apprenticeship in environmental sustainability leadership was introduced across the Rural Payments Agency and DEFRA. 

In addition, the Forestry Commission welcomed the first apprentices to its Development Woodland Officer programme.  

Taking tourism forward 

Sonia Dryden had already been working for Forestry England at Whinlatter for three years when she began doing a Degree apprenticeship in chartered management in the visitor economy in 2020. 

Sonia, who is now 18 months into the apprenticeship, has a background in sport and came to Whinlatter in 2017 to work on a programme to encourage more people to become active in the woods through running, biking and walking.  

"I work with activity providers to find events and activities that fit well for our sites that would encourage more people to be active in their lives, whether that's each day or each week or just a one off,” she says. 

“There's a lot of monitoring and reporting to do, but a lot of it is also promotion and sales.” 

With a number of managers in its northern region due to retire, Forestry England is working with the University of Cumbria to nurture a new group of senior leaders.  

"That's how this apprenticeship came about, they realised that they need to invest within their workforce,"  says Sonia.  

She spends one day a week on campus in Ambleside, studying subjects such as PR, sales, finance or analytics. 

"There's been a whole broad brush of subjects that are all linked to what you're doing day to day and you can put what you're learning to use in the workplace," says Sonia. 

Sonia, 42, from Cockermouth, is due to complete the apprenticeship with a BA Hons in 18 months and will also have the option of gaining a chartered management qualification. 

She says taking up academic studies again after quite a long break has not been as daunting as she may have feared.  

The apprentices were given a solid grounding in the basics such as academic writing and research in their first year and also have a liaison from the university who comes to visit them in the workplace. 

"I'm certainly not the oldest and by no means am I the youngest," says Sonia.  

"We're all obviously studying the same things and facing the same challenges at different stages of our careers, but that works really because you've got people to speak to and ask advice and people have different experiences from the workplace.  It's really nice to have diverse experiences on the course.” 

Dan Stearne, 20, joined the apprenticeship at the same time as Sonia.  

Dan, from Natland, near Kendal, first started out at the nearby Low Sizergh Barn farm shop but moved into his current role as sales and marketing assistant for Cumbria Tourism in October. 

"It's definitely one of the best decisions I've made," says Dan.  

"The course itself covers all the functional areas in a business so you'll get experience and you can progress to any role really. There's so many career paths.” 

His work at Cumbria Tourism includes supporting marketing campaigns, as well as developing destination guides and working with individual Cumbria Tourism members to market their businesses. 

Dan says between this, coursework and running his hobby business Dan’s Plants, which sells outdoor perennial plants, things can get quite busy. 

However, he says it is definitely worth it.  

"My original plan was to go to university but mainly for the experience of being in a city and the lifestyle," he says.   

"But I feel for all the money you're paying at university and what you get out of it, it doesn't really add up to value for money.  

“It's three years of theory and learning but if you don't do a placement, you've got no real skills or experience. The apprenticeship is the same amount of time and it's both at the same time.” 

A career in caring 

When Emma Evans wanted to develop her career in caring, she joined an apprenticeship scheme at University of Cumbria.  

Emma, 34, from Carlisle, had been working at Hospice at Home, Carlisle and North Lakeland, for nine years as a healthcare assistant but then joined the university’s nurse associate apprenticeship course. 

She finished this two-year apprenticeship in April and started a year-long ‘top up’ registered nurse degree apprenticeship in May. 

"It can be quite full on," says Emma.  

"But you've got a good mix of theory blocks and placements and being at work. It doesn't kind of feel like everything's on top of you all at once.” 

Emma’s work at the hospice involves a combination of day and night shifts, providing personal and respite care.  

Her first apprenticeship started in challenging circumstances as the country went into lockdown in March 2020.  

However, despite having to do much of her learning online and adhering to the tight Covid measures in hospital she says this did not detract from the experience. 

“A lot of us have said that we don’t really know how we would have done it the traditional way now,” says Emma.  

"I don't actually think I could have done it the normal way around if I wanted to go and do my nursing training because I've got two children. If I had to leave employment to go down the traditional university route, I don't think I would have done it. This has been ideal."