The Undergraduate and Postgraduate Degree Apprenticeship

By Vivienne Conway

With the University of Portsmouth being one of only two universities to offer the Degree Apprenticeship Programme at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, we are extremely fortunate to have two apprentices, one on each pathway at HGP, and are pleased to be able to trailblaze this new method of architectural education.

Sultan, completing her Bachelors course and Virag her Masters through to Registration, both discuss how this new pathway benefits all parties involved.

The benefits of the degree apprenticeship from the student perspective


Working at HGP while studying has many benefits. Having the support of co-workers is extremely beneficial as I am only at the start of my career and have a lot to learn. Getting advice on both the tasks I am given at work and university projects, means that I am able to expand my knowledge and learn about elements of design and construction that I would not be taught at university at this stage. This is not only shaping me to better perform on my Batchelors course; it is moulding me to think and consider things like an Architect would. Watching how colleagues approach challenges provides an example of how I should approach project challenges that I face in my university work.



For me the benefits I have noticed so far is having both the academic and professional environments coincide. The change of scenery during the week also helps me keep focused on the task at hand. Both environments also provide their own forms of support systems. I am able to access the academic resources the university has to offer alongside access to magazine subscriptions, varied software, training, and valuable peer and senior colleague feedback. Financially I feel I am better positioned. I am able to make use of student discounts as any other student would with added workplace benefits. One of the greatest benefits is while at “school” I learn things that help me understand work better, and at work I learn things that make some study modules easier to understand.

Why more practices should consider providing an apprenticeship program

Historically, learning on the job was the only way to learn a profession. This was the case with architecture too, before it became an academic subject. The degree apprenticeship actually goes back to the roots of architectural education. Many employers can testify from personal experience that learning on the job gives students a different depth of knowledge and experience that just isn’t academically taught. Practices that have existing ties with a university could find the degree apprenticeship benefits their own position and strategic objectives. There is a continuity from employing a Part 1 student, retaining that employee who has successfully bedded into the practice during their year out placement with the skills they have been taught and then further fostering their education that will reap rewards for student and practice alike. In return, this also promotes an employee’s commitment to the company. Practices that offer the degree apprenticeship at postgraduate level, demonstrates a company’s commitment to investment in their employees.

In my short time of study (Sultan), I have developed a firm belief that many more practices should provide an apprenticeship program, particularly medium and larger sized practices. Having talked to other apprentices on my course, I have observed that larger practices are potentially better equipped to provide a more diverse range of projects because they have a larger pool of resources to pick and choose from for both teams and projects for their apprentices to work on depending on what skills they want to teach the apprentice next. For me, being in a medium sized practice has provided me with better opportunities to explore the challenges of various different projects in comparison to some of my apprentice peers working in smaller practices.

By taking responsibility for professional education, training students to become architects means that a company has a key role in moulding the idea of what good practice is. By being more hands-on with students, employers can provide them with niche skills and knowledge in-house, as the programme is specifically designed to make best use of on-the-job training for students but also to meet the ‘real world’ industry and employer needs. This can help employers to fill knowledge or skill gaps they may have noticed that graduates from traditional courses may lack. Though the apprenticeship is currently seen as an unconventional teaching method, degree apprentices are not deprived of traditional teaching styles. Through a day release system, university is attended one day a week, where the apprentices are taught the same teaching modules as the traditional degree students. Thus, practices needn’t be afraid of apprentices lacking academic knowledge; in my experience the opposite is true. Integrating both traditional university and work-based learning means students benefit from both.

Why universities should offer the apprenticeship course

At undergraduate level there are currently two universities in the UK that provide the degree apprenticeship course. At postgraduate level there are 9 universities currently offering the programme. Overall, there are only two universities in the UK that can provide a complete architectural education through apprenticeship. We are lucky to have the University of Portsmouth so close to the office, which offers both the bachelors and masters level apprenticeship course, and the fact that HGP has long standing ties with them with student mentoring, made it a natural choice for HGP to be a part of. The course, although still up and coming, is so far proving to be a successful route for students in architecture. Universities offering the degree apprenticeship have the opportunity to be at the forefront in a real shift in the way architecture is taught and have a closer working relationship with the architecture industry.
The degree apprenticeship diversifies the student population and increases social mobility. Mixing full time students and apprentices in group projects, allows students to learn from each other, spreading knowledge apprentices have acquired across the rest of the year group, with minimal effort. In this way, universities are able to enhance their traditional full-time courses. It also has benefits for the staff working at the universities as they will interact with a collection of working students, and it allows them the opportunity to reform the content of the modules that they have been teaching for years.